Friend or Colleague: Building Healthy & Productive Workplace Relationships
26 March, 2019

Friend or Colleague: Building Healthy & Productive Workplace Relationships

/ 5 years ago

Friend or Colleague: Building Healthy & Productive Workplace Relationships

David Slade, Vice President & Co-Founder, HomeField Alliance

As a successful sports professional, I pride myself on my ability to build positive work relationships.  I’m an extrovert and getting to know people comes naturally to me.  Often at work having strong relationships can make a difference in your success or failure.  It’s much easier to get things done when you’re working with those you know as people and not just as colleagues.  Joe from Marketing and I were both fans of the same NFL team and watched games together on the weekend.  When I needed a last-minute email campaign that wasn’t on the Marketing calendar, Joe was the first person I called to help me navigate his department and get it done.  Sally from Legal and I both were raising small children at the same time and organized play dates at the park every month.  With Sally on my side, I never had an issue with an expedited contract review.

It’s often said that no one does anything alone.  The same is true in the workplace.  Tearing down the natural walls of the workplace and building meaningful relationships through understanding the people behind the work has helped me throughout my career.  I endeavor to see work colleagues not through their function but as people.

Attempting to tear down these walls is also not one size fits all.  Some individuals may choose to keep their guard up.  Every other Monday afternoon, I had a budget review meeting in my office with Trish from Finance and Accounting.  It was the meeting I dreaded the most.  I didn’t understand Trish.   She was competent and passionate about financials but seemed standoffish and cold.  She was all business.  She didn’t want to talk about anything outside of work.  Talking about my young son and his pursuits with soccer, basketball and tennis didn’t work.  My charm offensive was consistently met with resistance.  She probably saw my efforts to connect with her personally as inefficient and unproductive.  Every conversation was strictly about budget, income and expenses.   Small talk was simply not her thing.  I didn’t know much about her and she wasn’t willing to give much either.   As one that thrives on relationships, this situation frustrated me.  Eventually I learned to let it go.  You can’t win over everyone and Trish was one whose walls I just couldn’t tear down.

After two years of working with Trish, I received an email from our Chief Financial Officer informing me that Trish had resigned her position and it would be her last week at the company.  The email mentioned her outstanding service for more than a decade and her achievement in creating efficiencies that contributed to our financial goals.  Despite this record of achievement there was no celebratory gathering or send off planned.  She didn’t want it and wanted to leave quietly without fanfare.  I thought to myself the wall around Trish remained intact.  Even in leaving, she remained an enigma to me.   I sent her a professional email thanking her and wishing her well.  I quickly moved on and was looking forward to doing a better job at tearing down walls with her successor.

Months after Trish’s departure, I received an email from a colleague that included a link to a family’s GoFundMe account in honor of a child who had tragically lost his battle with leukemia.  It didn’t take me long to see it was Trish’s child that had passed.  My heart sank.  I looked around at my office and observed all the pictures of my son through various stages of his growth living a wonderfully blessed life.  Trish had been dealing with so much outside of the office during her time and many of us had no idea.  The wall she created at work was one I imagine she needed just to cope during an extraordinarily difficult time.

I spoke to a mentor about it and the advice I received was a lesson my parents taught me early on but along the way I had somehow forgotten.  Everyone you interact with is going through something and everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt.  You will never know the whole story about everyone.  The best thing you can do for an office teammate is to be the best team member you can in your work.  In your efforts to tear down walls in the workplace and get to know the people behind the work, I encourage you to do what you can for those who are willing, but also realize not everyone wants or needs you to be their friend.  Everyone does need you to be a competent and supportive teammate.  Get to know your colleagues as best you can and be ok with the fact that sometimes it may just be business as usual.



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