The truth about relationships at work

From work with my clients, to people unloading about people they hate at work, to stumbling upon article after article about the importance of good work relationships, I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships at work.

Although relationships at work are one of the key indicators of whether you’ll be happy or not, many people still either avoid them or just get them wrong. Much of this comes from a lack of understanding of the importance of them or the role work plays in our daily lives.

So – I’ve decided to dispel some myths about your work relationships so you can get those relationships back on track. These myths keep people from having good relationships at work and are just that – myths that need some debunking.

By the way – if you’ve never considered your work relationships as important to your happiness, go here to see why it’s one of the five pillars to structure your career for fulfillment and success at work!


Myth #1: You can’t be honest about who you are at work

This is the biggest myth out there about your work relationships and work in general. It leads to more dissatisfaction and unhappiness with your job (and your life) than any other factor. When you feel like you have to be someone else at work, it’s obvious you’ll have a hard time going in each day with a smile on your face.

But here’s the other thing – we humans HATE fake people. So, when you show up to work putting on an act about who you are, other people sense that and won’t want to spend time with you.

It’s a vicious cycle: When people don’t like you, you may think you need to act even less like yourself, and that causes them to dislike you more! See? It doesn’t work.

This is just one example of how feeling like you can’t be yourself at work can actually damage your credibility and lead to more dissatisfaction. The truth is, not being yourself at work leads to a host of other issues that diminish your satisfaction and success at work.

It’s a simple equation: Be yourself = better work + happiness! Yay! 🎉 🙌 👏


Myth #2: You can’t be friends with your boss

Ugh. I hate this one. It’s so archaic. It’s from the days when bosses dictated what their employees did and always thought they knew best. Even in the most conservative landscapes (and I know because I worked in quite a few), this is no longer true.

You can – and should try to – connect with your boss on a personal level outside of the strict confines of your work. I’m not saying you get to be exactly like you are with friends on the weekends. There are absolutely professional limits.

But, if you can connect with your boss on a personal level, it will make work requests and personal setbacks that affect your work much easier to overcome. Not to mention, your boss might be someone you spend a lot of time with, and the more you can be yourself at work, the happier you will be (see my #1).

I was lucky enough to have bosses that I loved for most of my corporate career. While a huge part of that was just sheer luck, a contributing factor was my ability to show that I respected them while still acting like a human being in our interactions. It made meetings that much more pleasant that we could joke around and talk about real life before we got down to business.

But even though you have a relationship with them, you have to be willing and able to get down to business. You have to understand that your boss is likely going to have to give you bad feedback at some point (and if not, get out of there because it means you’re not growing). And that’s ok.

Sometimes, you may need a break for a couple of days before you can return to your normal working relationship, but don’t let a bit of bad news set you off track for good. Think of it like a little spat with a friend. Yes, it sucks, but you learn from it and move on – hopefully making your relationship better along the way.


Myth #3: You should only focus on “beneficial” relationships at work

When I say “beneficial” relationships, what I mean is those that will give you something or help get you somewhere. This is the myth that the only relationships that count at work are those that have an obvious link to your future success.

WRONG! So. Freakin. Wrong.

For so many reasons.

  1. You never know who will progress where or the details of where your career is headed. So, what does it even mean to only focus on relationships that are clearly beneficial to you?
  2. Only fake people do that. See myth #1.
  3. We need work friends! Up the ladder, down the ladder, across on a different ladder. We need them to keep us happy. We are social beings and while there is a bit of a primal element to focusing on relationships that will support your future, there is a much deeper primal need to socialize and surround yourself with people you enjoy, regardless of whether they will help you advance.

I think that’s enough reasons, eh? No one likes a social climber and one in the workplace is the worst type.


Myth #4: You shouldn’t focus on “beneficial” relationships at work

But. Wait? What about myth #3?

No – I’m not saying you shouldn’t be strategic about who you form relationships with at work at all.  I just don’t think you can ONLY think about that and still be happy and have genuine relationships at work.

But that doesn’t make it a bad thing to consider – and seek out – relationships that can support your growth in the future.

Developing relationships with those that are higher up the food chain or in a group that has a relationship with yours is immensely beneficial in the long run.

For one, if they’re in a role you’re considering trying to get to in the future, you can learn a lot from them. Developing an honest relationship will ensure you know what you need to do and have what it takes to get there. It will also help you see the pitfalls to such a role so you can be sure you’re going into the pursuit with eyes wide open. You know, climbing the right ladder.

Developing close, authentic relationships with those in a different group from yours helps your career and perspective immensely, as well. When you have a broader understanding of your work than just the narrow focus of your team, you are likely to do a better job. Understanding how your work fits into the big picture is one of the keys to making sure you’re focusing your efforts in the right place and moving the needle on something meaningful to your company. Employees that understand the big picture are often more effective at their work and happier because they know why they are asked to do what they are doing and how it affects the broader organization.

So, yes. You still need to be strategic with your relationships. Just don’t make it your sole pursuit.


Myth #5: If I have a good relationship with someone that can help me advance, I won’t have to work as hard.

Whew. This is a BIG no no and yet I see this a lot in the workplace. While it’s important to cultivate and maintain good relationships to support your happiness and growth, you can’t assume that just because you’re buddies with your boss, you’ll get the promotion when it comes time.

Relationships support – but don’t replace – the quality work you do. When you start to rely on your relationships as a crutch for doing less than stellar work, you’re setting yourself up for failure in a couple of ways.

First – no matter how close you are, a good manager will still need to see good work and growth potential from someone they choose to advance. If all you focus on is taking them out to coffee or lunch, they’ll notice you’re not spending your time wisely and your work quality is suffering.

Second – your coworkers will hate you and may start to try to sabotage you. And can you blame them? If you’re focused on sucking up to the boss at the expense of your work, someone has to pick up the slack, and it’s probably them.

Even worse – they might get promoted and colleagues at an equal level can usually cut through the BS better than a manager who’s focused on higher level thinking. If they spent their days prior to promotion picking up your slack, they’ll remember and won’t be afraid to cut you loose.

So just remember. Relationships supplement good work. They don’t replace it.


Get the feel for it now?

It’s really quite simple. Be yourself. Be strategic. But don’t let your relationships be a replacement for how you would otherwise approach people or your job. Relationships are a key to your happiness and to your success at work, so it’s worth spending some time to get them right.

Still not sure why you’re having a hard time with your relationships at work? Start here. It will help you see just what’s holding you back and what you can do to shift your approach and cultivate the right relationships and strategy at work to succeed!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Sign up here to get a free guide to help you structure your life and career for success!