Why Your Professional Success Depends On Your Rapport With Everyone At Work
By Ben Carpenter, author of “The Bigs: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals About How to Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Be a Leader, Start a Business, Stay Out of Trouble, and Live A Happy Life“
Like most just-starting-out cubicle dwellers, you probably spend a lot of your time thinking about how to impress the boss. Whether it’s getting that big project turned in a day early, appeasing the combative client everyone else avoids, or just bringing your supervisor a cup of coffee, you do whatever you can to ensure that you’ll be promoted as soon as possible.
But when’s the last time you thought about making a good impression on anyone else at the office? Do you make a point to say “good morning” to your fellow cubicle dwellers, or do you plop down into your swivel chair without a word of acknowledgment? Did you thank the IT guy the last time he fixed your computer, or did you just open your email and mutter, “Finally, I can get back to work!” The answers to these questions might be the factor that actually makes or breaks your career.
Many people believe they have to worry about pleasing only their higher-ups. They believe if their boss is happy with them everything is going to be perfect.
The reality is, your boss’s perception of you is largely going to be a reflection of how everybody else in the organization feels about you. If many, or even just a few, people in the organization feel negatively toward you, then your chances for success diminish significantly.
Now and throughout your career, you should build alliances and rapport with all of your colleagues. This attitude should extend from the security guards to the CEO.
I saw a powerful example of this principle in action when, as a young Wall Street trader, I stopped by my friend Kelly’s desk on my way out to see if he wanted to grab a beer. As I waited, Kelly went around the department and said goodbye to each of the ten or so employees remaining at their desks — often accompanied by a handshake and a word of appreciation. Most of these employees were clerical staff. I got the impression that Kelly did this every day.
I have no doubt that the quiet leadership Kelly displayed contributed to his becoming our company’s youngest member of the Management Committee, and later on, its youngest board member.
Here are several ways to build rapport with everyone (your boss included!) in your organization:
1. Lend a helping hand.
When the boss asks who wants to help out with a prestigious project (or even who will get him a cup of coffee), there’s no shortage of volunteers. In fact, that cup of coffee might be prepared and ready before the boss even asks for it. But how often do your colleagues get the same courtesy?
You can set yourself apart from your peers in a very positive, very memorable way by lending a helping hand whenever you can. That might mean offering to print things for the administrative assistant of another department head who’s visiting your office, giving some free advice to Cubicle-ville’s newest hire, or taking five minutes to proofread a colleague’s report. When you don’t have to share your time, energy, or knowledge with someone but do so anyway, you’ll earn that person’s lasting respect and loyalty.
2. Don’t let anyone have anything negative to say about you.
Over the course of your career, you’ll encounter individuals whose opinions you think don’t matter and whose actions you think won’t impact you. You may also believe that your own position gives you license to dispense with politeness and consideration in certain situations. Beware: Those assumptions could get you into big trouble. In many companies, for example, the most hated people are the assistants who treat people in a high-handed way because they work for the boss.
It is important that everyone you come in contact with has a positive experience with you. Even if someone is a pest, rude, or stupid, always treat him respectfully. One day you may be working with, or for, that person. Also, bear in mind how your boss views you will be heavily influenced by what people in the company tell her.
3. Think of your company before yourself.
When you’re a rookie in the big leagues, you have to prove that you’re going to be an asset to the team, not a drain on its resources or a liability for the coach. Often, that means putting others’ needs and wants (and yes, especially your boss’s) ahead of your own.
For instance, it’s a good idea to: show up before your boss and leave after she does…schedule personal appointments after business hours… work through lunch if your team is facing a looming deadline… respond to phone calls and emails ASAP, even at night, on the weekends, during vacations.
I get that many of these things don’t sound like your idea of fun. You might even think some of them are ‘unfair.’ But remember — it’s your job to support your company, not the other way around. Everyone has to start at the bottom and work their way up. And when you show that you’re willing to sacrifice your own interests for the good of the team, you’ll have gotten a huge head start on putting your name on the ‘promotable’ list.”
4. Don’t agree to anything you don’t fully understand.
As you try to build mutually beneficial relationships within your organization, you’ll (understandably) want to avoid looking like you don’t know what you’re doing. But if you ever find yourself tempted to feign understanding and simply nod along, even though you have no clue what’s going on, don’t.
Early in my career, a client bullied me into saying ‘yes’ to a request I didn’t understand — and it cost my employer $25,000. While covering up your own ignorance might not come with such a steep price tag, it’s still something you should avoid at all costs. Your integrity, credibility, and reputation — and possibly your job! — are all at stake. Whether you’re working with a client or a colleague, it’s always better to swallow your pride and say, ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t understand. I need you to explain.’ Oh — and that’s just as applicable in your personal dealings as it is in your career.
5. When you’re upset, choose to look forward, not back.
You can’t always control what happens to you, but you can control how you react and move forward.
Maybe you’ve been handed an undesirable task at work, been blamed for your boss’s mistake, or been interrupted by an overzealous colleague during a client meeting for the thousandth time. Sure, you can choose to focus on your anger and irritation for hours, or even days. But that doesn’t do you a bit of good. Instead, resolve to channel your thoughts and efforts toward playing the hand you’ve been dealt in a way that will benefit you the most and preserve your relationships.
6. Learn to appreciate diverse work styles.
In life and in work, we all tend to gravitate toward others who think like us and who see the world through a similar lens. If you don’t push yourself past the familiar, though, you’ll be severely limiting yourself.
Yes, it can be difficult, uncomfortable, and downright frustrating to work with people who take a different approach from you. For example, maybe you’re a Type A personality who is totally frustrated by your coworker’s seat-of-her-pants approach to projects. Remember, though, by shutting her out you’ll also deprive yourself of her creative solutions and outside-the-box insights.
No matter what the situation is, always try to seek out and utilize your team’s talents, even if you don’t understand their methods. You can never be sure you have the best answer until you’ve heard all viewpoints.
7. Own your mistakes.
No matter how much you know or how hard you try, you are going to make mistakes as you pursue your career. The question is, how will you handle them? Don’t follow in the footsteps of a former coworker I refer to as “Never,” who never took responsibility for any mistakes and never apologized for anything.
Never was actually very good at what she did, but her insistence on passing the blame and refusing to admit her errors cost her all of the respect, support, and goodwill she could have earned. Here’s the lesson: Refusing to own your mistakes doesn’t make you seem more competent; it reveals cowardice, callousness, and untrustworthiness.
I promise, if you’re a hardworking, valued employee, when you do own up to your mistakes, your confession will be viewed as a sign of strength, not weakness, by your coworkers. Plus, you’ll be in a position to learn and improve.
8. Be a good steward of the “little” things.
For example, always proofread your emails for errors before pressing “send.” Don’t leave voicemails unanswered at the end of the day. Keep your desk and computer files organized. Call your teammates to share your progress on the group’s project, instead of making them come to you.
Most people don’t think much of letting the so-called ‘little things’ slide. They think it’s okay to cut ‘unimportant’ corners. So when you pay attention to small, often-overlooked details, you’ll distinguish yourself from the pack. Trust me, putting in just a little more work than most people are willing to do is a great way to propel yourself toward success. People notice and appreciate it when you make their lives easier!
9. If you want to be a leader, act like one.
If your goal is to be at the forefront of your field’s innovation and growth, you may feel discouraged when your first job is composed of tasks you could have handled in eighth grade. But don’t succumb to the I’ll never get there from here or the What I do in this position doesn’t matter line of thinking. Instead, get a head start developing the leadership qualities you’ll need in the future.
The best way to move up in the ranks is to lead in whatever position you’re in now. Even if you’re the lowest man or woman on the totem pole, you can still display leadership qualities like having integrity and a good attitude, providing others with helpful feedback, and treating them with respect. The fact is, very few employees consistently show leadership skills. If you’re the exception from day one, the Powers That Be will notice.
10. Do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it.
One basic requirement for doing an outstanding job is to handle all your work-related tasks, large or small, in a timely manner. If your job is to get a report done by Friday, get it done by Friday. If HR asks you to fill out a form today, do it promptly.
Yes, meeting deadlines sounds like a no-brainer. But you’d be surprised by how many professionals don’t live by this rule. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been handed excuses and requests for extensions instead of the finished product. But I can tell you that that type of behavior is not going to do you any favors in the workplace.
11. Don’t complain about your job to your coworkers.
There will be plenty of things you don’t like about your first (and second, and fifth) job. But complaining about them around the water cooler — even if you have a very sympathetic audience — is never a good idea.
If your comments get back to your boss, she will think your behavior is unprofessional, and she’ll wonder why you didn’t talk to her directly. Meanwhile, you’ll be creating a reputation for yourself as a whiner. Any time you’re unhappy with something at work, whether it’s your workload, the tasks you’re being given, or how you’re being treated by a coworker, bring them directly to your supervisor. If you feel that isn’t possible, continue to do the best job you can while looking for a more suitable position.
12. Don’t pick fights.
Fighting in the office is a bad idea, period. It makes people unhappy and unproductive, and is a huge waste of time and energy. Nevertheless, Carpenter acknowledges that serious office disputes are a fact of life for many people at some point during their careers.
My best advice is to take the high road, even if you’re gritting your teeth the whole time. Don’t engage with people when you know they’re trying to push your buttons. Avoid subjects that could lead to heated arguments, like religion and politics. And if someone seems determined to antagonize you, either talk to him or her privately to see if you can come to a resolution or bring the matter to a supervisor. Whatever you do, don’t air your dirty laundry at the water cooler. Do everything you can to keep your professional reputation a drama-free zone.
13. Don’t badmouth your coworkers.
This is my personal golden rule for business: Never say anything negative about anybody in your office. That’s right. Don’t vent about your boss in the break room. Don’t gripe about your coworker with the rest of the team. Don’t even make fun of John’s crazy tie, unless he’s right there laughing with you.
These comments have a way of getting back to the people they’re about. One of the things I’m most ashamed of in my career is badmouthing a colleague for no good reason. The things I said had a negative effect on our working relationship for years — and almost cost both of us a promotion! — until I finally reached out with a heartfelt apology. And guess what? Even if the other person never becomes aware of what you said, your colleagues will still make judgments about your character based on your willingness to bash someone else behind his or her back.
Never forget: Everyone is important. Don’t become so focused on pleasing your boss that you forget to develop positive relationships with the rest of your colleagues. Those relationships will directly shape your professional reputation, which will be just as instrumental as your résumé in achieving the success you want.
Ben Carpenter is the vice chairman of CRT Capital Group, a 300-person institutional broker-dealer located in Stamford, CT. He is also the author of “The Bigs: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals About How to Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Be a Leader, Start a Business, Stay Out of Trouble, and Live A Happy Life“.
This is an article contributed to Young Upstarts and published or republished here with permission. All rights of this work belong to the authors named in the article above.