How to Build Positive Working Relationships


If you want to succeed as a leader, you need the people you work with to know that they can trust you. Building trust can take time, but it is worth the investment because trust is a critical element of evaluating a leader positively or negatively. According to a study published in Harvard Business Review, trust breaks down into three parts: positive relationships, good judgment or expertise, and consistency.

Being able to develop positive relationships with other people and groups in the organization is a valuable skill. We cannot achieve success alone. This need for collaboration means that we cannot lead if we cannot connect and develop these relationships.

When building a positive relationship, understanding the people you’re working with is a valuable asset. It helps you treat people how they want to be treated, not how you want to be treated. Having conversations to try to figure these elements of how people prefer to be treated and communicated with can be challenging, especially if you don’t already have a level of trust to build on. One of the ways you can get a head start in developing positive relationships is by using employee assessment data. Assessments that measure how a person is wired will give you valuable information about how to interact with your employees and how to uniquely frame the conversation to them. Our innate wiring helps define what matters to us. It gives details about our preferred way of processing information, engaging and communicating, and solving problems. With the knowledge of a person’s wiring, we can recognize and appreciate what matters to them, how they communicate, and what they need.

Another facet of building positive relationships is learning how to be a compassionate leader. Being thoughtful doesn’t mean you can’t give honest feedback or be results-driven. It simply means balancing the need for results with care for others, one way to do this is providing thoughtful feedback in a productive and helpful way. For example, suppose an employee incorrectly prioritized completing a report instead of a presentation. This situation had consequences for your team, it resulted in missing the presentation deadline submission and losing out on essential funding. In that case, you should praise what you can, acknowledge what went wrong, and identify what would improve the outcome. You shouldn’t start the feedback by saying, “You should have done the presentation instead of the report. Because of your mistake, we missed getting important funding in time.” While that feedback might be honest, it isn’t compassionate, valuable, or actionable. It is likely to create resentment and conflict or it could make the employee disengage. You could say something along the lines of “I appreciate you ensuring that the report was sent on time. The report was very well done and contained all of the right things. In the future, if you have two competing deadlines and aren’t sure which project to submit by the deadline, could you let me know, and we can discuss which of the two to focus on first? In this case, that presentation was critical for our area to get funding in time for a project, so I would have rather you done the presentation instead of the report.” By taking a constructive approach when providing feedback, you ensure that they know the work they did matters and were recognized while acknowledging that there was an issue and offering a solution to address a similar situation in the future. The conversation isn’t focused on blame, it tries to offer a way for you to work more closely in the future to ensure a successful result.

Taking the time to develop positive relationships is an essential element of establishing trust as a leader. By understanding what you can do today to start improving the quality of your relationships at work, you can begin to increase the level of trust others place in you.