Step away from the keyboard

Building strong personal relationships based on trust and confidence in your colleagues will continue to be the cornerstone of your professional success.


In this electronic world we live in, it is easy to rely exclusively on e-mail or text messages to communicate with colleagues. If you are like me, you probably look at your task list and consider the most efficient way to get the action item completed. Often that is via e-mail or some form of digital communication.

In our efforts to be productive, it is easy to forget that the business world in which we operate is based on relationships. These relationships are built on personal connections that help our business colleagues relate to us and understand our point of view. It is a basic fundamental in the business world that people do business with people they like and trust. Yet how many of us think this only applies to prospective clients? In reality, it applies just as much to our colleagues within our organizations.

As obvious as this seems, I find in discussions with my colleagues that they just don’t seem to have enough hours in the day to get their work done, much less make time to work on their relationships with professional colleagues. Generating billable hours, completing projects, and securing new business always take priority.

So how do we balance the pressure of productivity with the need to have strong relationships? I am not going to mislead you—it is not easy. But I have gathered a number of ideas from friends and colleagues within the industry that may help you build your personal/professional relationships:

Reclaim conversation: Schedule an hour a week with an individual in your organization with whom you work, but feel that you don’t really connect with or know very well. Choose a setting away from the office—breakfast, coffee, or lunch are the most obvious choices—and get to know the person on a personal level. Try and limit the work discussion and focus on the individual’s family, personal hobbies and interests, and how they spend their free time. And, share some of the same elements from your personal life. Be sure to explain the purpose of the discussion so the individual will understand your motives.

Address conflict in person: When differences arise between you and a colleague, address the concern in person, preferably via one-on-one communication. Launching combative e-mails or voice mails often makes the concerns well-entrenched and can protract the conflict. Many of us are more comfortable putting our thoughts in writing when faced with a conflict situation. Prepare a response, but place the e-mail in your draft box, then step away from the keyboard. If possible, sleep on your response, review it the next day, then print it out and use it for reference when you speak with the other individual.

20-minute stand-up meetings: Several colleagues in both software development and manufacturing use these types of meetings to address ongoing project progress and updates. These can be held on a weekly basis and migrate to a daily basis for projects nearing key milestones or deadlines. I have used this approach and find that it limits the number of “reply-all” type e-mails in my in-box and fosters more open communication and collaborative problem solving. The trick is to identify the issue, get the right people assigned to resolve it, and have them report back at the next stand-up meeting.

Celebrate the victories: When a project is finished, the proposal won, the master’s degree earned, the professional engineer exam passed, or the anniversary achieved, take time to celebrate. Whether you lump them together on a monthly basis or you recognize each victory individually, take time to stop what you are doing and enjoy the accomplishment. Individual recognition is a powerful relationship building tool and shows that you recognize their personal commitment.

There is no doubt that digital communication tools have helped us become more productive in the workplace. However, they cannot replicate the personal connections we make when we take time to get to know and understand our colleagues. Building strong personal relationships based on trust and confidence in your colleagues will continue to be the cornerstone of your professional success. Before you leave the office today, ask yourself: When was the last time you stepped away from the keyboard and connected with a colleague?

Jane Sidebottom is the owner of AMK LLC, a management and marketing consulting firm that provides market development and growth expertise to small- and medium-size firms. She has 20 years of management and leadership experience in both consulting engineering and Fortune 100 organizations. Sidebottom is a graduate of the University of Maryland.

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