Building better professional relationships

Learn to communicate in a professional manner, while building strong relationships.


You know how it starts. You have that snarky e-mail that comes in on a Friday at the end of the business day, and the tone is a little off, a little less than positive. You reread the e-mail several times, checking for clarity and wondering if this person doesn’t know how to communicate professionally or is just an idiot in a suit. The kicker? The e-mail requires a response. So how do you communicate in a way that is always professional, but goes one step beyond and builds a stronger relationship simultaneously?

This is only one of many opportunities that professionals are offered on a daily basis to improve their business relationships. Let’s look at a few, beginning with that snarky e-mail.

1. Practice diplomacy. Often, a response to a specific query takes time to research, think about, and compose. While a good rule of thumb is to respond to all communications within 24 hours—48 hours if you are traveling on business—sometimes you need to buy some time. In such cases, sending a quick “thanks for your e-mail—I should have a thoughtful response to you in the next day or so” will acknowledge that you are waiting for input or feedback before moving forward. When responding, ignore snarky or emotionally charged aspects of the e-mail. De-escalate confrontations and focus on the facts that are in play.

2. Proactively communicate more frequently—not just when you need something. If every e-mail or side conversation you initiate comes with: “Hey, you know I’ve been meaning to catch you because I need a …”, then the people you communicate with will gradually begin to avoid you because all you represent is more work for them. Why else would you contact someone? This is why we read vastly and deeply in our field and in business in relation to our work. Conversations about what is developing in our field, specific developments with our competition, and even tangential matters in policy and science are great fodder for continually communicating.

3. Avoid complaining. Spending time in the negative has the amazing ability to pull everyone down with you. And the purpose of that? Really, what is to gain from bringing down the ideas and work of your colleagues? My suggestion is that if something is truly bothering you, voice it to those who can do something about it or keep it to yourself. The goal of any organization is to continuously move forward in positive ways, so part of your job it to be part of the solution resolving what concerns you.

4. Be a straight-shooter. This one is related to No. 3. If you have a concern or issue with a particular colleague, such as a person in your organization, a client, or a person within your larger field, address the issue with that particular person. Often, the best conversations and strongest relationships are built on what was once perceived as a problem. Going directly to the person who has the central knowledge about the issue creates transparency and opens the door for an honest dialogue. If you do this before talking with others, you can avoid creating unnecessary gossip. Nothing positive comes from office gossip; gossip can be a career killer.

5. Know your boundaries. Everyone has personal space boundaries and off-limits topics they prefer not to discuss. In building business relationships within your organization and your larger professional sphere, always keep in mind what you will talk about and what you won’t. It’s good to armor yourself with phrases that allow you to gracefully bow out of a conversation and create a space for the listener to save face at the same time. Phrases such as, “I’m not prepared to share on that just yet” or “That’s something I’m still working on, so I’m not quite ready to share at this time” with a smile can alleviate a lot of backpedaling and miscommunication.

6. Listen. This is the key to all strong professional relationships. Think about it: When was the last time you had someone ask good questions of you and you really listened, reflected on what you said, and then probed, asking more interesting questions? Unfortunately, these conversations are rare. Part of listening is being truly present during the conversation, finding commonality between you and the person to whom you are speaking, and following up. If your conversation leads to information seeking, creating connections, and providing more insight, then by all means, follow up. And do so within 24 hours. This responsiveness, this “listening” that results in positive action, is one of the best ways to create a richer, more sustainable professional partnership with your colleagues. In the end, there is no business without relationships, the kind of professional alliances that feed our curiosities, help strengthen our careers, and enlighten how we think about our work. Relationships matter, and so does the communication we use to foster them.

Smith is the department chair of the Curriculum, Language, and Literacy program at Concordia University Chicago. She has more than 12 years of experience in adult teaching and training and has published feature articles on mentoring and training in Consulting-Specifying Engineer. Smith also provides research and training services to firms in the buildings industry in a variety of career skills topics ranging from networking to public presentations.

No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2013 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
The true cost of lubrication: Three keys to consider when evaluating oils; Plant Engineering Lubrication Guide; 11 ways to protect bearing assets; Is lubrication part of your KPIs?
Contract maintenance: 5 ways to keep things humming while keeping an eye on costs; Pneumatic systems; Energy monitoring; The sixth 'S' is safety
Transport your data: Supply chain information critical to operational excellence; High-voltage faults; Portable cooling; Safety automation isn't automatic
Case Study Database

Case Study Database

Get more exposure for your case study by uploading it to the Plant Engineering case study database, where end-users can identify relevant solutions and explore what the experts are doing to effectively implement a variety of technology and productivity related projects.

These case studies provide examples of how knowledgeable solution providers have used technology, processes and people to create effective and successful implementations in real-world situations. Case studies can be completed by filling out a simple online form where you can outline the project title, abstract, and full story in 1500 words or less; upload photos, videos and a logo.

Click here to visit the Case Study Database and upload your case study.

Maintaining low data center PUE; Using eco mode in UPS systems; Commissioning electrical and power systems; Exploring dc power distribution alternatives
Synchronizing industrial Ethernet networks; Selecting protocol conversion gateways; Integrating HMIs with PLCs and PACs
Why manufacturers need to see energy in a different light: Current approaches to energy management yield quick savings, but leave plant managers searching for ways of improving on those early gains.

Annual Salary Survey

Participate in the 2013 Salary Survey

In a year when manufacturing continued to lead the economic rebound, it makes sense that plant manager bonuses rebounded. Plant Engineering’s annual Salary Survey shows both wages and bonuses rose in 2012 after a retreat the year before.

Average salary across all job titles for plant floor management rose 3.5% to $95,446, and bonus compensation jumped to $15,162, a 4.2% increase from the 2010 level and double the 2011 total, which showed a sharp drop in bonus.

2012 Salary Survey Analysis

2012 Salary Survey Results

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.