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Work Relationships Are Difficult. But They Don’t Have To Be

Work relationships aren’t easy. But they’re important, especially if you want to be happy in your career. In fact, research shows that successful careers are often heavily dependent on our relationships, both in and out of work.

Gorick Ng, the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right, recently offered tangible steps to building real relationships at work.

“As the son of an immigrant single mother who spent her career working in a sewing factory, I was always told to put my head down and let my hard work speak for itself,” Ng says. “But, after unpacking the differences between professionals who build fulfilling careers from professionals who stumble and don’t know why, I now have a different perspective: In the corporate world, doing your job is only part of your job. The rest comes down to being seen, heard, and known — none of which is possible without strong relationships.”


Awkward silences are inevitable in new relationships. Oftentimes, these uncomfortable silences lead to overthinking. But, Ng says, these uneasy moments can easily be broken and transformed into opportunities for something more real.

“This is the hardest step because it’s the easiest to overthink: Am I bothering this person? A voice in our head asks. What will this person think of me? Another voice wonders. What do I even say? A third voice adds. Before long, doubt sinks in and the opportunity slips away.”

Breaking the silence, Ng says, is all about positioning yourself for an opportunity—and these opportunities are always available in the workplace—whether it’s simply introducing yourself to a new coworker or sitting in a high traffic area within the office.

“These opportunities aren’t just strategies for introverts or shy people,” Ng says. “They are the secrets of the most effective relationship builders. Look around before your next meeting and you’ll soon realize, for example, that the time when some are burying themselves in their phones is also the time when others are sparking relationships.”


The first “hi” is always the most difficult. But once you’ve overcome that hump, Ng says, it gets easier.

“If you’ve said ‘Hi’ to a stranger, you’ve already overcome the most awkward step — and given yourself permission to say ‘Hi’ again,” Ng says. “This is your chance to transform acquaintances into allies.”

Here are three scenarios, according to Ng, where a second “Hi” can be an opportunity to build further:

Have a moment when you return to your computer? Consider sending an email along the lines of: “Thanks for the fun conversation. Love that we’re both _______. Looking forward to crossing paths again and hopefully working together soon.”

See them in the hallway again? Smile and drop a “Hi again!” and then follow up on whatever you discussed, whether it’s “How was the wedding?” or “How did the presentation go?”

See them in a group call? Message them with a “Nice to see you again” or slip them a private message of encouragement if they fumble over their words.

Read Ng’s full step-by-step guide on building work relationships here.

Sources: Harvard Business Review, Connected Commons

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