Research shows that the need for quality relationships is fundamental and critical to well-being, which is why your professional relationships have a direct impact on your life satisfaction and long-term career trajectory.
A relationship strategy is probably not an explicit part of your career development plan right now, but it should be. What you want to be valued for and how you want to feel when you interact with people are critical factors for maintaining stamina and working with purpose.
When you take the time to strategically leverage your relationships, you have the opportunity to invest more in the social activities with the highest return and avoid the interpersonal pitfalls that can lead to disengagement and career-inhibiting burnout.
These five steps will help you design a relationship strategy that targets who you want to work with most often and in what capacity—and that can redefine your job.
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Step one: Take ownership of your job description.
The structure of an interview process gives the illusion that a job is a fixed entity that can be precisely communicated in a brief description or after a few interviews. But the reality is that a job is largely defined after the fact by the person who takes the role.
Sure, there are some clear requirements to doing your job, but you probably have more discretion in how you get your work done and the kind of relationships you build than you might realize.
Deliberately owning the process of designing your work experience is called job crafting, and can include altering your tasks, relationships or perceptions.
Even if you feel stuck in your current position, the process of relationship crafting has the power to redefine your job by enhancing the level of fulfillment you get from your workplace interactions.
To get started, you have to take ownership of your ability to redefine your job description and shape the relationships around you.
Step two: Identify your relationship motivators.
Workplace dynamics will force you to flex between many different kinds of relationship roles, and serving in some of those roles will motivate you more than others.
Determine which types of relationship interactions appeal to you most. Do you prefer to be in the role of a teacher or student, mentor or mentee? Do you opt to be a leader and adviser, or a comforter, collaborator and supporter? Consider which two relationship roles from this list you enjoy most and whether you are maximizing the amount of time you spend in each.
For example, are you spending too much of your time collaborating with people when you get more energy from taking ownership and leading? Or are you spending most of your time teaching others without enough time to truly mentor them?
Identify disconnects in the kind of relationship roles you are filling your days with and the kind that motivates you the most.
Then, experiment with shifting your workplace interactions toward your preferred roles. Reprioritize how you schedule meetings, reframe how you describe your services to clients or redirect your work goals toward new projects that greater utilize your relationship strengths.
Step three: Expand on your success.
You may have heard the phrase “what you focus on expands,” and this idea holds true in your work relationships. Be deliberate about focusing on and expanding your connection with the people that already support you the most.
No job is devoid of difficult co-workers or clients that aren’t easy to win over. It may be your instinct to spend too much time fixing the situation and too little time paying attention to the people that value you.
Don’t worry about titles or authority. Deepen the relationships that allow you to lead, advise, teach or mentor simply because you are respected.
Build upon your strongest and most comfortable interactions and steer your career toward increasing time with these people. Prioritize clients or colleagues that seem especially open to your ideas or more easily allow you to play a relationship role that motivates you.
Don’t give extra time or energy beyond what it takes to competently do your job to anyone that isn’t upgrading your work experience. Go where you are appreciated and a better job will show up.
Step four: Build your brand with purpose.
Never let others decide what your brand is. The truth is that you may be skilled at a lot of things, but only enjoy a few of them.
To attract the relationships that will improve your job satisfaction, you may have to pass up on the opportunity to be recognized in all the areas you excel. While it may seem like a risk to say “no,” avoid collaborations that showcase your ability to do, even masterfully, something you don’t enjoy.
Instead, expand your time in the relationship roles you want to play most often and get known for your successes there.
Help others to see your skills differently and build a brand that is better aligned with your truest desires. Draw in the community of people you want to spend your days with.
Step five: Avoid doubters and assess progress.
If you’ve been following the first four steps, your relationship strategy will positively transform your workplace interactions. Despite that added boost, you may still need to deal with clients, bosses or co-workers that drain energy, are openly hostile or simply doubt your abilities.
You already know that no job is perfect, but seek a balance where the positive relationships far outweigh the negative ones. Do not settle for a culture where you struggle to find any relationships to build upon or where you feel devalued when you play to your unique strengths.
Always start by doing your own work to enhance relationships and exhaust the potential to turn a boring, stagnant or even bad job around.
Then, be honest when assessing the effort you are putting in and the progress you have made. Your focused relationship strategy will lead you to a revelation that either this job can become something new, or you owe it to yourself to find an environment better aligned with your values.