One of the things I miss the most about being in an office space is being around people. I don’t consider myself an enthusiastic extrovert — I have moments where I prefer being alone because I can be painfully shy. But being surrounded by like-minded, creative people who share your zeal for the same things can bring one out of their shell.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we work, and that has naturally changed our relationships with our coworkers. Since I started my job amidst the pandemic, I have only seen my coworkers in 2-D. I know they’re a wonderful bunch, but not knowing when I’ll be able to work with them in person is disheartening.
But what’s more difficult is not being able to build workplace alliances that can help both parties on a professional level.
Why Do You Need Workplace Allies?
Having workplace allies is like having an unspoken professional bond — you know you’re going to be there for each other when the job gets tough or tricky.
Navigating a job comes with its ups and downs, and knowing that someone within your team (or outside of it) can help you when the going gets tough can make you feel less lonely in the organisation.
You don’t have to make extremely deep, personal bonds with everyone, and that’s not always even possible. But it’s important to be cordial, open, and approachable with everyone because it’s a good way to move ahead in the organisation.
When I say ‘move ahead’, I mean growing professionally and also doing what’s best for the organisation, of course. These tips aren’t to fulfil a personal vendetta or to play into office politics. Workplace alliances can develop into lifelong friendships if you nurture them to the best of your abilities.
How To Build Workplace Allies
Identify Your Potential Work Allies
If you want to make your way up on the career ladder, it’s important to know your place in the organisation.
Understand where you are and where you want to be in the organisation. Then, find the people who can help you achieve your goal, and cultivate a relationship with them.
Start by making yourself more visible to them. Initiate conversations, send them links to the latest insightful thing you read, and build upon the conversations you have with them.
A common mistake people make is investing in a potentially beneficial relationship with their higher-ups exclusively. Yes, your boss is a great person to have a rapport with in order to move ahead, but it is your coworkers that will also help build you up, especially if you’re looking to get into a management position.
But your boss can’t be there for you the way your coworkers can, especially if it is your boss who is giving you trouble on occasion.
Focus on cultivating relationships horizontally as opposed to just vertically.
Be Friendly With Everyone
This is not just to fulfil your professional goals; it’s a great practice to be open with everyone because it makes you seem friendly.
Your office receptionist may not be able to help you get a promotion, but they may let you meet the boss without an appointment on occasion because they think you’re a good person.
Always greet your coworkers and subordinates with friendliness; ask them about the last piece of news they read or how their weekend was. A good impression goes a long way, regardless of whom it is you’re friendly with. Here’s how you can break the ice with someone new.
Customise Your Relationships
You can be friendly with everyone in the office, but that can come across as impersonal. What would set you apart is developing a specific personal bond with the people who matter to you in the professional sphere.
You don’t have to get deeply personal with every coworker; just personal enough for them to know and trust you. You’re likely to have something in common with the people you want to befriend — find those things and build on them.
Invite them for lunch every now and then; take coffee breaks with them; share articles, songs, TED talks, and memes you know they’d appreciate.
Spending quality time with your coworkers is invaluable for building alliances at work. In the pandemic, this means scheduling face-time one-on-ones and having coffee together!
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Your relationship with your work friends is slightly different because of the ‘work’ angle. You may be very close to them, but it’s important to maintain professional boundaries.
First of all, steer clear of office gossip. You’re better off not indulging in bringing someone down, as that can affect your work relationships.
Discourage any kind of office gossip around you, and in case you can’t, simply disconnect from the conversation.
Because you’re in a work environment, it would be a bit much to expect your work ally to be at your constant beck and call. Always respect their time and mental capacity before you ask them for help.
Also, remember that there is such a thing as asking for ‘too much’. Ensure that the task you want their help for isn’t forcing them to sideline their own work. You can meet your work friends outside for a movie or a drink, but it’s good to keep your guard up so that neither of you encounters an uncomfortable situation.
One way to build trust is to let your work ally know that you know your boundaries and that you’d never breach them.
Resolve Your Conflicts
It’s impossible that you and your work ally won’t have any conflicts at all.
There might be disagreements; you may not always get along due to conflicting ideas or thoughts. There might be instances of miscommunication and misunderstandings, which can threaten your relationship with your work ally.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t move on from them. Be transparent with your work ally whenever you can, and ensure honesty when you speak to them. It’s easier to resolve conflicts when you’ve built trust.
Never Blindside Your Ally
This one is important. Whatever the case may be, always share information with your ally that you know will come out eventually, especially if it concerns them or their team.
If you’re going to be discussing a particular issue with your boss in a meeting that day, ensure that your work ally knows about it. You can even discuss it with them beforehand and figure out the best way to bring it up with your boss.
What is unacceptable is that you say one thing to them and completely turn your back on it later. This can develop mistrust. If you had a solid reason behind it, you owe them an explanation. Be sure to give it to them.
Be An Ally Yourself
Last, but not least — be an ally to them for them to be an ally to you.
Be open, honest, and free with your trust, and bring up any issue that you need resolved from their end. Even if things go sour and you may not trust them to be your ally any longer, do not turn your back on them or rat them out.
Regardless of how your equation with them turns out during your time working in the organisation, carry forward the respect you have/had for them and for yourself, and leave on a positive note.
Workplace allies can be helpful to you even beyond your time working in the organisation, and it’s important to build a good relationship with them. These tips can help you get started on making meaningful connections. If you have some more, do tell us in the comments!
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