The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: How do you build authentic relationships at work? is by Tim Eisenhauer, president of Axero Solutions.
Authenticity has become a buzzword for everything from advertising to personal style to politics. In today’s world, where so much is mediated and polished by technology, the widespread desire for authenticity is really a bid to get back to the ‘human’ side of things and away from filters. And the desire for authenticity is just as strong in the workplace. Building authentic relationships at work is a key aspect of ensuring that employees are satisfied, engaged, and productive. The challenge is that authenticity, by definition, can’t be manufactured. But there are still things employers, and employees, can do to build meaningful workplace relationships.
Let’s start off by looking at why office relationships are important in the first place. LinkedIn’s (LNKD) Relationships @ Work study showed that millennials rely on work friends “to boost their spirits and output.” Approximately 57% of respondents said friendships make them feel happy, 50% said friendships were motivating, and 39% said friendships made them more productive. Additionally, a Gallup poll found that 30% of employees have a best friend at work, and these employees are seven times as likely to be engaged. They’re also better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work, and exhibit higher levels of wellbeing.
All relationships — whether they are friendly, romantic, professional, or a combination — require openness and truth to thrive. They require authenticity. Without it, connections remain tenuous and superficial, lacking roots and opportunities to grow. I would argue that you can’t have a real relationship of any kind without an authentic connection, and thus the question “how do I build authentic relationships at work?” is really “how do I built relationships at work?”
The obvious answer is “be authentic”. But that’s hardly helpful. Being authentic is something of a paradox because the act of being, and certainly of trying, seems to undermine authenticity. There are all kinds of questions here. Is being authentic “just being yourself” or “being who you are?” What does that even mean? How can you not be yourself? Can you be somebody else? The fact is that most of us have multiple “selves” that emerge at different times and in different situations. Humans are dynamic. Are some of our selves more or less authentic than others? Is it possible to learn to be authentic? Or is that something we already have?
The question of the self has been debated by the world’s greatest philosophers — Aristotle, Lao Tzu, Descartes, Locke, Nietzsche– and to Socrates, the entire goal of philosophy was to “know thyself.” These are not questions that should or will be answered in this article, but they do make one thing clear: Building authentic relationships, inside and outside of the workplace, first requires self-knowledge. Awareness of what makes you tick, how you operate in the world, and how you interact with other people creates the foundation for authentic connections.
Beyond introspection, authentic workplace relationships are built on trust. You have to both trust the people you are working with and cultivate their trust in you. This means fulfilling the promises you make, being transparent about the things you are working on, and refraining from gossip. Transparency depends on open communication, as does friendship. The more effort you put into talking to and learning about other people, the richer your relationships will be. But don’t be afraid to express concerns when they arise. It’s okay not to be positive all the time, as long as you are polite and respectful about your concerns. Ultimately, the “hidden secrets” to building authentic relationships at work are not different from building authentic relationships anywhere — communication, honesty, respect and trust, and most of all, a strong sense of self.