On the topic of how to build work relationships, a frustrated reader writes about the way her boss perceives her actions at work — and her non-actions. She feels confused by what she said. It doesn’t feel right to her.
Well, sometimes you just need to trust the feedback and take charge of changing how you’re seen. Even if it’s not your usual way, the benefits can far outweigh the effort of breaking through any initial resistance.
And this is especially true with workplace relationships. Luckily there are things you can do to help improve things. So here’s what Natalia shared — and my answer that includes a few tips to help.
Natalia’s frustrating situation at work
Dear Ronnie Ann,
I read several articles and stories here and decided to tell my story as well. I moved to a new country five years ago, and, although I already have worked for two years back in my home country, decided to take another education in my new homeland.
I also took placements two times during my study and got excellent recommendation letters from the both employers. I hoped to find job quickly as I learned good skills both during my previous successful work places and my education as well.
It did not happen that quickly although … I guess my job experience from my homeland was not considered as valuable in the new country; and my placements, although very successful and in great companies were still internships.
Natalia finds a job
Finally I was lucky to get a job in a large international company, but I made a compromise taking a job that was far below my level – administrative coordinator; although with opportunities to grow.
The problem now is that my boss has got a strange impression of me – she thinks that I am somewhat shy and avoid communicating (which is absolutely not true).
She based her assumptions on the fact that I did not attend Christmas party (I could not due to family reasons) and that I often communicate by email or phone instead of approaching people in person. But I arrange meetings with people when there is a need for that!
To ask a question — is it that efficient to go 500 meters (the company is really large) forth and back without knowing if a person got time for me? To write an email or call and ask about on beforehand is wrong! – “Just go to people and ask.”
This just feels so wrong to her
I just find this way inefficient (oh, we have an awful communication in the company, difficult to find the ends); but she takes it as if I am avoiding to communicate to people and do not learn the organization. Although, believe me, I am a responsible person and definitely know organization more, than she thinks I do.
We discussed it several times, I explained that no, I am not avoiding communication, but she still have not changed her opinion. The trouble is that we are sitting far away from each other and do not see each other every day.
I do my job properly and even more than that, but she never have told me a single pleasant word. All I hear is her doubts. I am for the first time in such a situation… Do not want to leave the company, but feel that we do not get along with my boss.
I would like to have more autonomy about what I am doing and see that I could have problems to move on with my career in the present situation. I am slowly trying to search in the other departments, but slightly afraid a kind of recommendation she could give to me in case i find another position – and the worst is that her opinion is only based on her wild assumptions…
It pays to build work relationships
First let me compliment you on the courage it took to make the move you made. It’s hard to move to a new land and even harder sometimes to adapt to new cultures – including work cultures.
While I respect that you are good at what you do and admire your interest in efficiency, in the world of work there are other even more important factors that come into play if you want to move ahead.
I know you think that emails are efficient, and in many ways they are. But I have to tell you from many years of experience, MUCH is gained by in-person communication. Team building for one. And interpersonal relationships, which will serve both the work now and you in the long run — such as when you look for new jobs down the road.
Taking advantage of cues & relationships
There is so much you can learn from meeting with people in person and reading their communication cues, body language, etc. Plus, you gain little helpful tidbits you never could get from email – or even phone. Did you know that in many companies new ideas and new opportunities arise almost exclusively from in-person communication? It’s a trick successful people know well.
So it’s an important skill for you to learn no matter where you wind up — if you want to move up the ladder. (And considering you are new to the country and had to accept a position you feel is below your level, this might prove very helpful for you.) It’s part of corporate culture in most places — and clearly true where you are.
And that includes socializing whenever possible (even though I’m not much of a fan of that either.) Successful people learn to respect and take part in the corporate culture of both their company and those they do business with. And I can honestly say almost every job I’ve had in the last 20 years or so has come from someone I knew because of prior work relationships that I built up slowly – in person!
Another key to success
One other key to success is good listening — especially listening to what your boss wants from you and seeing the value in trying to comply. If your boss tells you you’re avoiding communication, it doesn’t matter how much you know or how smart you are. Work is so much more than just the task at hand.
Doing well at work is about the relationships and building a reputation for knowing HOW to get the job done — and that includes how you work with people. And it’s also about whether you show your boss that you respect what she wants from you.
I know that may not be what you wanted me to say, but it is the best advice I can give you. They say a strong tree bends in the wind. Go to your boss and tell her you have thought long and hard about what she’s been telling you and understand now that there is much to be gained by improving your communication skills — and you intend to work on it. And then smile and THANK HER.
Looking at the bigger picture
Of course, if you dislike this type of environment and want more autonomy (as you mentioned above), then maybe you need to think about your professional goals as a whole. For instance, I work with technology and, while business analysts have to be good with people, there are some technical people who happily keep to themselves.
Think about where your career is headed, and try to match it to who you really are. But wherever you go, you need to build work relationships. You don’t need to be a social butterfly. But a few solid workplace relationships can go far, both as a support system and to help you enjoy your time there more.
So, if you can manage to get yourself to reach out more to in-person communication and actually learn to enjoy it (it can be fun), your career path can open up. Especially in an international company with much room for growth, if you just learn to flow with the preferred culture.
You don’t have to change who you are.
Just respect who they are — and try to find a happy blend. 🙂
I wish you much luck, Natalia, and have faith you will decide what makes sense for you. We’re all different. Please let us know how it goes.
~ Ronnie Ann
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