How to improve your workplace relationships

Written by: Leonie Hurrell | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

People who feel they have a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their roles. Leonie Hurrell looks at how we can build positive and healthy working relationships


We spend around a third of our lives at work. Our jobs and careers really affect our overall levels of happiness. Having good work relationships will always make our jobs more enjoyable.

In fact, according to research by Gallup (2010), people who have a best friend at work are up to seven times more likely to be engaged in their roles.

Senior leaders in schools who encourage informal interactions can foster the development of more positive relationships. Informal interactions can significantly influence and improve staff satisfaction, creating an atmosphere of trust as well as creating greater opportunities for creativity and innovative thinking.

Also, when we have great workplace relationships we will demonstrate cooperation, trust, and fairness, activating the reward centre of our brains which encourages even more positive interactions. As Susan C Young says: “Connecting with others gives us a sense of inclusion, connection, interaction, safety, and community. Your vibe attracts your tribe, so if you want to attract positive and healthy relationships, be one! Staying connected and getting reconnected feeds the flow of goodness which empowers our humanity.”

Most advice about building a happy career in education focuses on finding purpose and satisfaction in your work. While this is important, focusing on the relationships that help us through each day is equally vital to our happiness and our school’s success.

Arguably, the quickest way to feel happier and more engaged in your role at school is to spend some time building good relationships.

Building good, healthy work relationships requires trust, respect and greater self-awareness. These can all be supported through engaging in positive interactions and good communication. Everything at work is created at an intersection between people. So, we need to get those intersections right. But how?


1, Focus on self-awareness
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Anaïs Nin

This means taking full responsibility for our words and actions, not letting our own negative emotions impact the people around us. If we feel frustration or resentment towards others this will manifest in what we observe and the way we engage. By developing our own emotional intelligence, we will become more adept at identifying and handling our emotions and be able to recognise the needs of others.

If we view colleagues with compassion and respect, we will improve our interactions and build strong working relationships. What would happen if we stopped making judgements and embraced a positive appraisal of our co-workers? If we saw difference as something valuable that could be harnessed and actually enhance our perception and understanding of those around us? Your vibe will always attract your tribe.


2, Be open and honest
“Clarity and simplicity are the antidotes to complexity and uncertainty.” General George Casey

All good relationships depend on open, honest communication. Whether you are sending emails or messages, or meeting face-to-face or on video calls, the more effectively you communicate with those around you, the better you will connect. It is important to identify the nature of our relationships with others. What is it that we need and what do our colleagues need from us? Once we know the fundamentals of what we need we can be clear when communicating and better understanding each other’s requirements.


3, Practise active listening
“The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.” Stephen Covey

Good people skills are essential. How good are you at collaborating, communicating and managing challenge? People respond better to those who truly listen to what they have to say. By practising active listening, you will talk less and understand colleagues more and you will quickly become trustworthy and have more successful interactions.

One key skill we can forget when listening is the power of a good question. Active listening is engaging in what you hear, asking questions such as “what would you like to happen?” and “how can I help you address that?” shows you listen and you care.


4, Avoid bad people skills
“A lot of problems in the world would disappear if we talked to each other instead of talking about each other.” Unknown

Good people skills mean avoiding the bad people skills. Gossip and negativity can ruin any workplace relationships. If you are experiencing challenge with someone in your group, talk to them directly and kindly about the problem – be prepared to listen attentively and objectively. Gossiping or colluding with other colleagues will only aggravate issues, accelerating mistrust and animosity.


5, Give praise and feedback
“Employees who report receiving recognition and praise within the last seven days show increased productivity – they’re just more engaged.” Tom Rath

Everyone wants to feel that their work is appreciated and to feel valued. Genuinely complimenting the work and actions of those around you is a great way to build relationships. Be honest, precise and authentic when delivering praise. Thank you or a gentle word of encouragement can make all the difference to someone’s day. These positive interactions can have a ripple effect and create a much happier and more effective workplace.

  • Leonie Hurrell is a former headteacher with 15 years of senior leadership experience. She founded The Thinking Academy, providing coaching support in schools across England. Leonie is an associate at Education Support, a UK charity dedicated to improving the mental health and wellbeing of the education workforce.


Further information & resources

  • Education Support: For help or advice on any issue facing those working in education, contact the free 24-hour helpline on 08000 562 561 or www.educationsupport.org.uk. The charity also offers free peer support groups for headteachers and deputy headteachers via https://bit.ly/3BO1Qvz
  • Gallup: Your friends and your social wellbeing, 2010: https://bit.ly/3KWwKFI

SecEd Summer Edition 2022

This article first appeared in SecEd's Summer Edition 2022. This edition was sent free of charge to every secondary school in the country. A digital edition is also available via www.sec-ed.co.uk/digital-editions/


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