7 Steps to Building Durable Work Relationships and Effective Communication Skills

By: Cottrell | Dec 13, 2018 |  Article,  Leadership

At work, “stuff” inevitably hits the fan–it’s just a matter of when. However, there are things you can do to ensure important workplace relationships weather any storm, regardless of its fury.

The Problem

We don’t often invest enough time in developing durable workplace relationships. Many of us just hope that when things get difficult, everyone will just play nice. Unfortunately, that approach leaves the door open to discord, friction, and dissent. The good news? I’ve seen many examples of how to build good work relationships, and I’m happy to share them with you.

Effective Communication in the Workplace Takes…You Guessed ItWork

Rather than leaving workplace relationships to chance, modern leaders are working harder than ever to engage with their colleagues. I’ve distilled the work into seven practices to build those durable, storm-worthy relationships. Taken together, these practices can forge lasting workplace partnerships, alleviate tension when things go sour, and mitigate a crisis before it gets out of hand.

1. Build Personal Capital

Invest a little time getting to know the people you work with and what they care about outside of work.

Why: Getting below the surface creates common ground. Discussing hobbies, interests, history, family, or time spent on vacation are a few of the ways you can get to know your colleagues better. It only needs to be for a couple of minutes, and when it’s genuine, you’re making connections that will matter later.

It’s like putting money in the bank for a rainy day–you are building relationship capital. Eventually, things will get difficult and you will have to make a withdrawal. Business is messy, and things go askew. However, when people know their colleagues care, they have a much easier time forgiving or helping out if someone messes up.

2. Be Vulnerable

Appropriately share details about how you feel at work or what matters in your personal life to allow peers to get some insight into how you operate.

Why: Letting others get to know you helps people relate to you and builds trust. You don’t have to overshare (please don’t), but showing a little vulnerability makes you much more approachable. Vulnerability also shows you are willing to both seek and give trust–and frankly, you have to give it to get it.

3. Ask for permission

Secure your coworkers’ agreement to always talk openly and with candor about tough things whenever they come up.

Why: This is powerful. Workplace relationships can withstand storms much better when people engage each other in ways that demonstrate they are committed and agree to do good work together. That means being honest and not shying away from difficult conversations. That little effort enlists their support and helps navigate the difficult discussions about workplace expectations because you have created a safe space to do good work and have real, safe communication in the workplace.

You don’t need a special occasion to do this. Try setting up a quick 15-minute meeting. Mention your need for more candor and insight from colleagues to help you make better decisions. Ask if they’ll agree to offer candid feedback, and offer to do the same in return. End the meeting by saying something like, “We’ve agreed to be candid with each other. Thanks.” Follow up by seeking them out and listening to what they say.

4. Ask for help

Try something many leaders feel is risky. Try inviting coworkers into your challenges to gain their wisdom and insight.

Why: Asking for help allows you to be vulnerable and have honest conversations about issues that are not so electrically charged. Reaching out to others shows you don’t have all the answers. It also makes others feel good about being invited in–people love to help. It’s a simple way to get their expertise, enlist their help, and show your respect. Plus, no one can do it all on their own, and you might find they have really great advice.

5. Listen intently

Be present in the moment, and listen fully to what your colleagues have to say before you contribute.

Why: You are showing your colleagues that you are willing to carve out the time to understand and hear them. You don’t have to agree or even like what you hear, but listening shows you value them enough to make them a priority at that time. It also helps overcome challenges–you can’t solve problems without gaining full context of an issue, and you can’t gain full context without listening intently.

Pro Tip: The basics really matter here. Eliminate distractions by ignoring your phone, text alerts, and emails.

6. Be brave

When it’s time for those difficult conversations, be courageous.

Why: American psychologist Abraham Maslow sums it up: “In any given moment, we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.” Don’t shy away from difficult conversations, even though it can be one of the hardest things for people to do. It’s much easier to summon the courage for difficult meetings or conversations when you have invested time in steps 1-4 since laying a foundation of trust in relationships makes summoning courage to work through difficult situations a whole lot easier.

7. Take action

When something important surfaces, act as soon as possible.

Why: Don’t wait days or weeks to have meaningful conversations. Prompt action diffuses emotional energy. If someone is really hurt, time frequently does not heal those wounds. You can nail steps 1-6, but it won’t do any good if you don’t act. Too often, the longer you wait, the bigger the problem grows.


Following these steps builds durable relationships, stimulates effective communication in the workplace, and forges lasting workplace relationships that are able to withstand whatever challenges a turbulent business day throws your way.

Do you have any tips on how to have tough conversations at work? Share with me in the comments below!

For information on our approach to building lasting business agility, you can check out our Transformation Services page.

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