While not a subject explicitly taught in school, knowing how to develop professional relationships is crucial to not only career development and progression, but job satisfaction and happiness as well. So much of our time is spent with colleagues, so the better your workplace relationships, the more likely you are to enjoy your time spent at work. Getting to make a meaningful impact on the world—and being a part of a team that works together to make that happen—is truly something special. But it can’t happen without knowing how to connect and collaborate with others. 
Helping others connect has been a driving force throughout my career. So with that in mind, I wanted to share some of the best practical tips I’ve discovered to help you cultivate your workplace relationships and build your professional network.
The art of learning how to cultivate professional relationships can be a bit of a tricky dance; each workplace, each person, each relationship is different. Fortunately, practice makes perfect and the more you flex those emotional intelligence muscles, the easier and more natural developing strong connections at work becomes. 
The best place to start is by figuring out what exactly you’re looking for from the relationship. Are you trying to connect with someone who you admire and want to work with in order to learn from? Or do you want to reconnect with someone you enjoyed working with on a project and would like to work with again in the future? Or, for leaders, are you looking for how to best connect with your employees as well as the multitude of benefits that come from the camaraderie of a strong team? There is no right or wrong answer here, it’s really just knowing what you’re looking for so you can ensure that you’re building your professional network with intention. 
Once you know what you want from the professional relationship, figure out the best way to approach them. If you recently worked together on a project, let them know (either in person or even over email) that you really enjoyed collaborating and would welcome the opportunity to do so again in the future. If it’s someone you hit it off with at an industry event, a simple email letting them know you enjoyed meeting them is a great place to start. Or if it’s someone you work with regularly, see if they’d be interested in grabbing coffee or having lunch together. In each case, try to manage your expectations and understand that not everyone will be interested in (or has the time) to develop a new workplace relationship. It’s essential to respect their response to your invitation—if they politely decline, leave it at that, and do your best not to take it personally (it rarely ever is).
When building new professional relationships, it’s key that you know how to read situations well as well as how to open up enough to be able to cultivate real, meaningful relationships, without overstepping boundaries (not everyone wants a work bestie) or oversharing (that can get real awkward, real fast). It’s not necessarily an intuitive line, and it’s likely not going to come naturally at first, but it is a skill you can hone. One way to walk that line is to build your connection around the work—a project you’re collaborating on, a shared goal, or a mutual passion or interest. Another key thing to remember is to have patience. Workplace relationships aren’t built overnight; they require time to develop the necessary mutual trust, respect, and understanding that makes them so meaningful and rewarding. So don’t try to rush or force things. 
For new or aspiring leaders, it’s even more essential to respect employees’ boundaries since your position of power can unintentionally come across as pushy or invasive (which is not the way to build any kind of relationship). Finding the right balance to get to know your team as people while also not overstepping or prying will come down to each individual. A great way to open that door is to model the kind of camaraderie you want your team to have. You can do this by sharing more of yourself with your team, while also communicating an openness to hearing about the challenges they’re dealing with both at work and outside of it.  
Personally, I’m a big believer in having one-on-one meetings with direct reports and ensuring employees have the opportunity to voice their thoughts and opinions both directly and through regular surveys. I also always prefer meeting in person since that is the best way to really connect with and see how someone else is doing. It’s much easier to notice things you wouldn’t necessarily pick up on with a phone call or even over Zoom—for instance, when your legendary nail-art employee shows up with nails bitten down to the quick, you know something is wrong or at the very least off. Being able to read body language and other physical cues is immensely helpful when forming or building on relationships. This holds true whether you’ve known someone a long time or are just getting to know them. And this—the ability to really connect with and understand your team—is one of the many reasons why emotional intelligence is such a vital skill for leaders. 
Just as important as cultivating professional workplace relationships, if not moreso, is maintaining them with diligence and care. All relationships, whether personal or professional, take work. This means regularly setting aside time to connect, remembering important events and milestones, cheering on successes, and generally showing up for people as you would like them to show up for you. Maintaining a strong professional circle requires mastering the art of not only keeping in regular and consistent contact, but maintaining quality and mutually beneficial contact as well (one-sided relationships will inevitably wither and die). 
Like any other skill, connecting with others and building and maintaining relationships is something you can practice and improve upon. You just have to keep flexing those muscles! Having genuine and meaningful professional relationships will not only enhance your career, but is also a critical part, if not the key, to loving your work. As my regular readers know, I’m a huge proponent of pursuing your passion and developing a career that really allows you to fully thrive. Like any other healthy relationship, good professional ones are worth their weight in gold, and the reward of a professional circle you can really count on is well worth the effort. So while it might feel daunting to put yourself out there, don’t let fear hold you back from extending a hand to others. Having people in your corner is crucial for creating a successful and fulfilling career. Why go it alone when you can do so with a squad at your side?


Liz Elting