From Associate to Ally: 5 Tips to Strengthen Your Professional Relationships


Published: 10 November 2019

Work is simply more enjoyable when we have strong relationships with those around us.

Given how much time we spend at work, and how stressful working in healthcare can be, it makes sense that we would want our work relationships to be fulfilling.

A side-effect of strong relationships is an increase in productivity.

Consider this:

When relationships are valued, people are more likely to open up, share ideas, contribute towards an initiative and work collaboratively to resolve issues and meet shared goals (Spherion n.d.).

Career progression may also be more likely for those who have worked to foster strong relationships at work.


Because others enjoy working with them and want to increase the amount of time spent with them at work.

Two women having a discussion in front of a computer | Image

5 Key Tips for Building Relationships at Work

The following tips are intended to help you implement strategies to progress your professional relationships and feel more content at work.

1. Put Time Aside

Perhaps socialising at work comes naturally to you and bonding with coworkers isn’t something you have to make a conscious effort to do. For some people, it might be a bit harder, or even daunting.

It might be helpful to see this as a necessary part of your job. Consider dedicating roughly 20 minutes each day to bonding with coworkers. For example, you could ask a coworker out to coffee or reply to their post on LinkedIn or Instagram (Mind Tools n.d.).

2. Set and Manage Boundaries

Have a clear idea of what you want your work relationships to look like.

Is collaboration the goal? Does friendly conversation help you get through a busy day?

Establish your boundaries: a close friendship at work has the potential to impact productivity if too much time is spent talking to them than actually doing work.

The key to managing this is to be assertive, politely remind them of the work you have to do and make plans to spend time together after work (Mind Tools n.d.).

3. Express Appreciation for Others

Let people know that you appreciate them and their work.

Even giving a small compliment to a coworker tells them you are aware of the work they do and acknowledge their effort. It also lets them know that you respect them, and from a place of mutual respect you will be more able to work together and share ideas, wisdom and creative insight.

Expressing appreciation generally creates a positive environment from which strong relationships are more easily fostered.

4. Abstain From Gossip

It benefits everyone to have a healthy work environment, free from negativity and cynicism.

Marking yourself as someone who is prone to gossip might cause people to be less likely to trust you as a result.

Even passively listening to gossip without calling it out can be detrimental. Think about how you would feel overhearing gossip about yourself.

Keep in mind that at work you only see a small part of someone’s life. A person could be dealing with factors outside of work that is affecting their performance and might not know how to access support.

Remember that positivity is contagious, so spread your optimism freely.

5. Listen Actively

Listening actively is a practised skill. It requires the listener to make an effort to engage with what the other person is saying, rather than only hearing it.

The ‘active’ aspect of active listening is communicating in a way that takes steps to:

  1. Show a clear interest in what is being said;
  2. Pick up on subtext, tone and less obvious meaning; and
  3. Draw out information that may otherwise be left unshared.

(Doyle 2019)

Active listening techniques include being attentive, reflecting back what is said to you, withholding judgement (and advice), and asking if you’ve understood them correctly with sentences such as ‘let me know if I’ve misinterpreted this, but what you’re saying is…’ (Doyle 2019; Cunic 2019).

Two nurses walking up stairs | Image

Communication is Key

Dr Kathy Barrett of the Centre for Research Staff Development at King’s College London recommends the five As for building relationships with colleagues using communication:

  • Answers: Ask your coworkers questions to encourage dialogue (answers). This gives you a sense of purpose when approaching them and opens up communication.
  • Advice: Asking for advice puts a bit more pressure on the person you’re talking to, it’s often the next logical step forward, it lets them know you value their opinion and think of them as a source of knowledge in their particular area.
  • Assistance: Further the relationship by asking for assistance, this will offer mutual insight into other’s work. By this point you have laid the foundations of the bond and established trust and respect.
  • Advocacy: During the months you have spent on this relationship you have demonstrated to the other person that you are reliable, hard-working and trustworthy. You may then want them to be an advocate for you at work or a reference.
  • Alliance: When you reach the stage of alliance, you are in a place where you and your coworker are mutually benefitting from this strong relationship. You know that you can rely on this person and they are equally confident that they can rely on you.

(Barret 2018)

Managing Difficult Relationships

There might be someone you work with who you dislike or simply can’t relate to.

For the sake of your work, and your ability to provide care for patients, you need to move past this. Make an effort to communicate with this person, they may also be aware of the disconnect between you. Try not to seem guarded and instead attempt to find common ground to bond over, such as shared interests outside of work.

Nurses walking down hallways | Image

Developing Your People Skills

People skills come under the category of ‘soft skills’. Soft skills are intangible but are just as important as hard skills, such as being able to carry out a specific procedure on the ward. Your people skills are how well you are able to communicate, collaborate and manage conflict (Mind Tools n.d.)

Particular people skills worth honing are: knowing how to show empathy; demonstrating patience with others; strong communication skills; having the ability to negotiate; keeping an open mind; being polite and having good manners (Smith 2013).

Armed with your advanced people skills, conflict resolution ability, and the tools to communicate effectively, you might find that the professional relationships you build now, end up being relationships for life.


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