While sometimes it might not feel like it, good working relationships will enrich your working life – whether that’s because you’re learning from someone or driving a product or project forward. “I find it energising to work alongside talented people, helping my team to develop and constantly learn from the expertise we come into contact with externally,” says Sarah Miles, Director of Amazon Fashion Europe, whose work revolves around making strong working connections with others. “I’m always proud to bring people together with diverse backgrounds and a wide range of expertise to collaborate in a way that delivers a fantastic product or customer experience.”
With this in mind, we asked Sarah, alongside Neil Seligman, founder of The Conscious Professional, for their tips on creating the perfect work relationship…
Realise Not Everyone Will Be Your Best Friend
First things first, you have to accept that not everyone is going to like you or be your best friend, says Neil: “This isn’t school, and you’ll waste a lot of time and mental energy if you enter work with that goal. The fact that your vibe goes down well with some and repels others, says nothing about you, other than you are a human like the rest of us.” As soon as you accept that, the easier it will become to be yourself. While it’s important to try and cultivate good relationships with everyone, this realisation will give you permission to work on the relationships that do promote positivity instead of wasting time trying to work on relationships that are never going to work.
Do It Your Own Way
Sarah believes that everyone has it in them to be a strong networker, but there’s no one way to do it – you have to do it your own way: “That starts with understanding yourself – what makes you tick, how other people perceive you, and what kind of impression you want to give as your best self.”
But it’s also thinking about those you come into contact with – at its most basic, networking is about listening to each other and sharing ideas, “so you need to understand why those people are important to you and how you can communicate to them that you consider their time and expertise to be valuable,” she says.
You don’t want your working relationships to serve no purpose, so think about how you can work well together. What are the similarities and differences in the way you and someone in another part of the business work? “Perhaps they approach a solution in a similar way to you, or in a way you can learn from,” Sarah explains. “Finding that commonality and connectivity help to build a bigger picture of how the organisation works and how you can improve it.”
Get To Know People On All Levels
It’s in our genetic make-up to make meaningful connections with others, and it’s going to be detrimental to the way you feel about the work you’re doing. Neil says that our social needs are prioritised by the brain in the same way our need for survival is, and there’s a good reason for that: because social networks are how we have always operated and are what keeps us safe. “This means that the relationships you form at work have a high social and business value to you,” he explains, so make the effort with people at all levels of the business, from the CEO to the juniors, as it’ll make your understands of the business and the people in it even richer. “Invest time in getting to know the people around you, what are they interested in away from the office, how do they like to work, what are their preferred styles of communication. We are all unique and as a minimum require presence and respect. Practice generosity, patience, and improve your listening skills.”
Create A Virtuous Cycle, Not A Vicious One
At some point, you just need to throw yourself in to making these business relationships – while it’s natural to feel nervous about approaching somebody new for the first time, you rarely regret doing so. “I like to think of it as a virtuous cycle: once you pluck up the courage to have that conversation, you’re much more likely to do it again next time, and you’ll be better prepared to make the most of that time with them,” Sarah advises. “On the other hand, if you linger on the fringes of an event and scoot off without getting involved, you’ll be much more likely to repeat that behaviour in the future. Sometimes is only takes one positive experience and a leap of faith to make a viscous circle much more virtuous.
When you get to know someone at work, you often go through the rigmarole of asking the same old questions: “What do you do?”, “How long have you been there?” and “Where’s your office?”. But if you really want to build a strong bond with someone, Neil suggests going rogue – stray away from the usual questions and ask something a bit more unexpected: “When it comes to networking with people you are meeting for the first time, my favourite play is radical honesty. Going in with something unexpectedly honest goes so much further towards breaking the ice and inspiring presence.”
Similarly, Sarah said she would be determined to get people to remember her at networking events. “I would set myself a challenge to contribute three points or ask three questions in meetings. It was an easy mental cue that helped me to feel present and positive about my ability to contribute. You can apply the same to networking events: “I have five business cards in my hand, and I’m not leaving until they’re gone!”, or “There are two people here who I have a lot of respect for, so I’m not leaving until they know my name!”
Approach Everyone Equally
Sarah’s philosophy when it comes to networking is simple: work hard and be nice to people. And this means approaching everyone you come into contact with equally as even the most junior employees could teach you something new. “In fact, in a deeply meritocratic organisation like Amazon, where decisions are evidence-based, junior colleagues can almost always teach me something. They’re often working directly with hard data or real customer experiences that inform our most important business decisions. Keeping an open mind to learning opportunities should be considered a pillar of any successful careers. That starts with approaching everybody equally.”
Flex That Muscle
Networking and making those crucial relationships will come easy to some and harder to others, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn. Everything in business should be a learning curve, whether that’s meeting someone new or working with a new system. Sarah believes that anyone can develop an ability to build professional relationships, as long your you’re willing and eager to learn. “Atart with natural curiosity, a passion for new ideas and a strong understanding of the value your colleagues provide. Over time, you will develop a sense of how to put yourself across in the right way. In the same way we talk about our ‘personal brand’ on social media – our appearance, tone of voice and our main interests – it’s also useful to think about how you can clearly and concisely communicate those traits and values when speaking face-to-face.
“The older I get, the more I find patterns of connectivity that never fail to astound me. There’s often a common thread to bond over, or a shared contact, which can help to improve your own knowledge or business proposition. The more you practice, the easier and more natural it feels to build those connections.”
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