Building trust is an important way to cultivate relationships that allow you to be more effective at work. If you think about a frustrating relationship you have in your working life, are you focused on making it more effective, or on being liked? Effective relationships are often thought to be built on likeability, but in fact they are built on mutual respect and trust (and if you happen to like each other, that’s a bonus). So, making it about the work you’re both invested in, and the organization you both support, will help you to build something healthy in a new relationship, or when building a relationship with someone with whom you don’t naturally connect.
Trust is present when there is mutual respect. It may be tempting to think that if someone likes you then there is mutual respect. Usually, but if you think about all the people you like, would trust all of them to look after something time sensitive or important to you? If not, it doesn’t take away from their likeability, but it does tell you something about trust; you can cultivate mutual respect and trust without actually liking someone. When you make it about the work, and what you share through the act of providing your expertise, skills and abilities (and less about whether or not you have anything personally in common), there’ll be enough common ground to build something together through work. A professional and personal connection may be important to build over time, but when that isn’t easy to do, start with the work and build from there.
This isn’t always a simple process. You may not like the way this person presents their ideas; they may have an interpersonal or communication style that sets your teeth on edge. You’ll be able to do this with more success if you can start with remembering (whatever your personal feelings are), this person is a human and worthy of acceptance and respect. If respect isn’t present, then you are unlikely to find an approach, or the words, to maintain, or further, your working relationship. You may also have to hold healthy boundaries with this person, ensuring you aren’t doing all the “giving”, and they all the “taking” (or vice versa).
Mutual respect is about having the difficult conversations necessary to cut through the ways of working that stand between you. You only control yourself, but that also means you have to consider speaking to others about any misunderstandings, or the things that aren’t working in your professional relationship, in a timely and empathetic way. Working together in a demanding environment can be tough; often there’s a lot of pressure, and what gets you through is knowing you’ll both deliver, even if you’re not each other’s favourite person, which is to say it’s always worth it to try and build mutual respect. So how do you do that with someone very different from yourself?
Start with compassion; first for yourself and then with this other person, and be willing to have non-judgmental conversations with the people you’re trying to build mutual respect and trust with, exploring what is, and is not, working in your relationship. Remember, it’s about ensuring you have what you both need to be more effective at work, so think about what you would like to say with that frame in mind: “I’d like to pick your brain about that last meeting, I think there are things there we can learn from that will help us both to be more influential.” Feedback with compassion is also key, it can make the difference between telling your colleague they are being too direct, and letting your them know what is helpful to include in their feedback to you to get the results you both want. Going in with strong feelings and assumptions about this person immediately makes things personal, and that often means compassion is not front and center, which impacts your delivery and the way you’re perceived.
Building mutual respect and trust takes time. It can be frustrating when it doesn’t immediately give you results, but stay the course and you’ll find you get what you need, even when working with someone very different from yourself.