By Dave Willmer
I’m one of the top performers at my work, but I don’t seem to be treated as warmly as my coworkers. Other people in my department – including one person who makes a lot of mistakes and another who is only been here a couple of months – seem to be better liked than me. I’m not an outcast, but I do not feel like my coworkers quite "have my back," even though I go out of my way to be friendly. I worry that this might be hurting my chances for a promotion. What can I do to build better relationships with my colleagues?
Dave Willmer responds:
Forging strong relationships with coworkers is an underrated key to a satisfying career. Camaraderie isn’t just a great stress-reliever during hectic or difficult periods – it’s also a practical resource when you need help with a heavy workload or a challenging deadline.
More importantly, the stronger your interpersonal connections, the more likely you are to be considered when a high-profile project or advancement opportunity comes along. And long after you have left your current employer, your closest colleagues will serve as the backbone of your professional network.
Here are eight ways to lay the groundwork for stronger work relationships:
Be yourself. Your assertion that you "go out of your way" to be friendly suggests that a more genuine approach might serve you better. If coworkers perceive your demeanor as insincere, they will often respond in kind, resulting in relationships that are cordial but not close.
Express an interest in others. You do not need an outgoing, relentlessly cheerful personality to build better relationships, but people do want to be assured that they are more than just a face or a name to you. Say hello when you pass by, and stop for a few minutes to chat when you can. If a one-on-one lunch sounds uncomfortable, try to get a loose group together. This kind of casual contact makes it much easier for others to develop a sense of connection with you.
Lend a hand. Whenever you have an opportunity to lighten someone else’s load, take it – especially if you know your colleague is struggling, and you have the flexibility to lend a hand. The time and effort you spend may be minuscule compared to the appreciation your continued help generates over time.Help others help you. Most IT professionals like to help others, but their time is precious, and they will stop offering their assistance if they feel like you are wasting it. When you ask for a hand, let the person know exactly what you need, when you need it by and why you need it. The clarity of your instructions can determine whether the work is done gladly or grudgingly.
Play it cool. When you need help, do not overstate the urgency of the need. By sounding the alarm too often, you raise everyone’s stress levels. Coworkers may respond (consciously or not) by distancing themselves from you. Whenever you need something in a rush, clearly explain why – "This is a project for the CIO," for example.
Say thanks. Never treat a coworker’s help as an expected part of their job. You do not have to take someone out to lunch every time a person pitches in, but you should go beyond an e-mailed "thx." A sincere, face-to-face expression of gratitude validates the time your colleague spent assisting you.
Be visible. Make sure a wide range of people know who you are and what you do. Introduce yourself to people in the office you have seen but do not quite know. Volunteer for projects that involve people outside of your immediate team and seize opportunities to speak at meetings. Your goal should be to establish yourself as someone people throughout the company have heard about and want to work with.
Don’t gossip. Sharing a juicy tidbit about a coworker might feel like a good way to develop a closer relationship with another colleague. But demonstrating that you can’t be trusted with confidential information is more likely to have the opposite effect.Your efforts may not yield obvious results right away, especially if you’ve developed an aloof or selfish image. But try to keep in mind that whenever someone expresses a positive thought about you – "He stayed late to help me meet my deadline," for example – it contributes to an improved reputation. If you remain consistent in your efforts, that new reputation should eventually snowball.
No matter how helpful and trustworthy you are, however, remember that the way others perceive and treat you is not entirely under your control. By changing your own behavior, you are likely to find that tighter bonds will start to take shape before long. If they do not, it may be wise to consider options outside of your current department or firm.
Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support. The company has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.rht.com. For additional career advice, follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/roberthalftech.