How to encourage strong workplace relationships

Humans are social creatures and building positive relationships is vital to our wellbeing. Given we spend most of our waking hours – nearly a third of our life – at work, developing strong workplace relationships is vital to our happiness and development. These relationships don’t form overnight and take commitment, understanding and effort.

In Part three of this wellbeing series, we’re exploring R in the PERMA Wellbeing Model. PERMA stands for Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Accomplishment. Relationships have often been referred to as the “trump card of wellbeing”, highlighting the significant role they play when it comes to individual and workplace wellbeing. For people going through significant life challenges, social support can also enhance resilience to stress and is one of the most important factors in mental health outcomes.

Exploring What Creates a Positive Relationship

There’s significant amount of research on what creates a positive relationship. Dr John Gottman, also known as “Dr Love”, has shown that there’s a positivity ratio when it comes to positive relationships. In his ground-breaking research he’s been able to show that in “master marriages” (those that succeed) there is a ratio of five positive interactions to one negative interaction. In these relationships there’s a lot more support, validation, encouragement and positivity going on. Whereas in the “disaster marriages” there’s not much interaction at all except for cynicism, criticism and contempt! Recent research also supports a similar ratio with high performing teams, or “dream teams” if you like, in workplace settings.

Science also tells us, and many of us already know by experience, that a positive relationship creates positive energy in its interactions, rather than depleting energy. Think back to your last interaction at work and ask yourself – did this person energise or de-energise me? This also begs the question of whether you’re a positive energiser or what’s increasingly referred to as an “energy vampire”? Most people have little awareness of their communication style and the impact they’re having on others, particularly when busy and focused at work.

Support team building/bonding sessions

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It’s essential to provide your employees with the time and space to build positive relationships. Often in a small business, people are under the pump with little time for friendly or personal conversations, which are the foundation of trusting and positive relationships. Activities that are out of your employee’s comfort zones will encourage them to come together and bond in new ways.

Identify your organisational values

What makes your business tick? Is it honesty, integrity, energy, results? Ensure your business values aren’t just pretty posters on the reception wall, and give your employees a chance to experience these values in depth – what do they mean to them personally and how do they want to see them lived in the business. This will create a sense of meaning and a guiding light to workplace behaviour that supports constructive, rather than destructive relationships.

Invest in professional development sessions

Providing your team with the opportunity to gain new workplace skills in a workshop setting helps them build positive relationships, and often greater empathy for each other’s workplace challenges. Consider a series of wellbeing workshops where people can learn more about wellbeing models such as PERMA. When provided with practical tools, team members are able to build positive relationships, which will enhance overall wellbeing at work and make them happier and healthier employees (and more likely to stay with your small business).

Create a strengths-based business

Helping your team to identify their strengths through an assessment such as the VIA Character Strengths or Gallup StrengthsFinder is not only lots of fun and a great team building exercise, it allows employees to see people through the lens of strengths. This can be powerful in strained relationships where the ability to see someone’s strengths can be game-changer in developing positive relationships at work.

Taking a strengths-based approach to performance reviews or feedback conversations can also feel energising for team members, particularly when there’s historically been a negative or deficit focus in performance conversations. And to be clear, it’s not about disregarding weakness or areas for development, it’s about balancing out the conversation with the positive and using strengths to support development areas.

Be an Active & Constructive responder

Most people acknowledge their listening skills aren’t great. The key here is to actively listen to others. Active listening allows you to understand what an individual is trying to say and how they feel. Responding in a positive manner also powerfully impacts the relationship. Whereas responding in an understated manner, ignoring the person, or honing in on the negative, particularly when listening to someone’s good news, does little to build positive relationships.

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Creating positive relationships at work takes time. As a small business your people or “social capital” if you like are the foundation to success. If you’re a leader, ensure your “busyness” includes an investment in time in your people. Great leaders and great businesses prioritise relationships.

Dr Suzy Green

Dr Suzy Green is a Clinical and Coaching Psychologist (MAPS) and Founder of The Positivity Institute, a positively deviant organisation dedicated to the research and application of Positive Psychology for life, school and work.
Suzy is a leader in the complementary fields of Coaching Psychology and Positive Psychology, having conducted a world-first study on evidence-based coaching as an Applied Positive Psychology. Suzy was the recipient of an International Positive Psychology Fellowship Award and has published in the Journal of Positive Psychology. Suzy lectured on Applied Positive Psychology as a Senior Adjunct Lecturer in the Coaching Psychology Unit, University of Sydney for ten years and is an Honorary Vice President of the International Society for Coaching Psychology.

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