Thriving Work Relationships – Through the Ages

This week, in my inbox was an email from Rick Kelly, a colleague I worked with over twenty years ago at John Hancock. He sent a note to about 20 of us who all worked together and used to go to Cape Cod the second Sunday of every June for a conference. I have not talked to any of the people on this list for over two decades, and this note came out of the blue. It was a wonderful reminder of a time when we were younger and enjoyed being together on our “work time”!

The note made me pause, and I stopped to think about how thankful I am for the many, many amazing work relationships I have had throughout my life. While not every work situation has been enjoyable, the people I have been blessed to work with have been many. Last month I had two lunches with current clients of mine to celebrate their birthdays. No “shop talk” and no agenda – just a chance to get together and enjoy one another’s company.

Once a quarter I have breakfast with two of my colleagues from over twenty years ago. We all happen to work within a few miles of one another now – all in our own businesses – and we still get together and exchange updates and ideas. While we have nothing in common work-wise anymore, we enjoy one another’s company.

I cannot count the number of people I have had the pleasure of working with over the years that I genuinely and thoroughly like and enjoy. It’s a particular blessing I acknowledge when I think about the thousands of people I have dealt with to help them work with difficult people in their workplaces. I have certainly encountered my share of the “difficult ones,” but overwhelmingly the good experiences have trumped any negative ones I have had.

Work relationships – when they work – can be very beneficial. We share ideas, we support one another, and we don’t often have the same expectations we do for personal relationships. If a personal “friend” did not reach out for twenty years I might wonder what was wrong, but a work friend who pops up from out of the blue and sends a fun email is welcome and a day-maker for me!

Many times we enjoy our work colleagues because we have been through a set of circumstances together: We have the Cape Cod conference, or the “bad boss,” or the tumultuous merger we have lived through together. We bind with work colleagues in a way that isn’t often found in other circumstances. While we may not ever know all about the person, because we only see them in a certain environment of the workplace in many cases, what we know about them we connect to.

Many people who were on the email responded to the original note and one provided a quote that was recently in O Magazine:

 “What these old friends give me, and what I hope I give them, is not only unconditional love but a portal back into a previous way of being in the world.”

In every work situation we go into we have an opportunity to behave in a certain way. The “portal” one might have when looking back at how they related to us can either be a very positive one or a very negative one. Sometimes in making bad decisions, we learn how to make better ones. I think the tough times I went through and the mistakes I might have made have helped me to be a more compassionate and understanding individual with my clients and colleagues today. So while we can’t always make “right” decisions in a pressure-cooker work environment, we can learn from our approach and make different choices the next time.

And while we can’t always determine the way someone else will feel towards us, what we can do in the work environment is strive to understand, use active listening, be fair and upfront in our dealings with others, and look for ways to make the environment we are all operating in an enjoyable one.

Rather than look back at the work relationships you’ve had and rue the day you had to work with “those people,” make a commitment today to improve any relationships you can. Find the gifts that others give and acknowledge those gifts. Time passes, and most people need connection and support as life goes on. Don’t overlook the benefits that can be had from deepening and strengthening the relationships of those you work with every day.