Understanding & Fostering Interpersonal Relationships At Work

The human desire for kinship, such as friendship or love, is almost universal in our species. This dates back to the early days of human evolution, where strong emotional attachments lead to a higher chance of survival. Because of this, the need for companionship developed as one of the most basic human physiological needs.

However, how we relate to other people, and how this affects our abilities to function in groups is something that is learned individually as we grow up. Our first encounter with groups and social relationships is, for most people, our families.

As we grow up, we are exposed to more people. Outside our immediate and extended families, we come into contact with our parents’ friends and coworkers, as well as other children in our neighborhoods and schools, and begin to grow our interpersonal relationships.

What is an interpersonal relationship?

Interpersonal relationships can be defined as a social tie or connection between two people or more. Interpersonal relationships can form amongst family members, friends, students, coworkers, and others. Interpersonal relationships help people develop a sense of belonging, sharpen communication skills, and improve their ability to work in a team setting.¹

How do interpersonal relationships affect team dynamics?

Now, you may be wondering, how do these basic interpersonal relationships affect a team’s ability to work together. Simply put, the stronger the interpersonal relationships, the better the lines of communication between group members.

“In work contexts, high-quality relationships are key channels through which members engage in learning behaviors that help the organization attain its goals.²

Strong interpersonal relationships help nurture a support system within groups. Imagine that all relationships have a certain level of emotional “carrying capacity,” or a limited amount of both positive and negative emotion that they can carry without feeling strained.²

How can you improve interpersonal relationships at work?

If you are looking to improve your interpersonal skills at work to improve the effectiveness of your team and workplace dynamics, there are a few tips you can use:

1. Be an empathetic listener

If team members are not able to show empathy amongst each other, they will not be able to connect and understand each other. Set up recurring 1:1 meetings with team members to create bonds outside of daily work communication. Or, sending an e-mail or message asking the simple question “How can I help you today?” can show your support to other team members.

2. Acknowledge the strengths of your team members

Everyone likes to feel appreciated and acknowledged, especially regarding specific skills or strengths. If you are facing a challenging project or situation, ask the advice of a team member that you know is strong in that area.

3. Foster an environment of wellness at work

If team members do not feel like their wellness is a priority or their boundaries are being respected, their morale drops drastically and it will be harder for them to nurture interpersonal relationships within their work environment. Take steps to improve wellness at your workplace, like implementing a wellness program or mandatory mental health days off. 

4. Schedule team activities outside of work

Make sure that you are scheduling team building activities that foster employee relationships. Whether you work at an office or are on a remote team, scheduling team building activities are essential to growing and maintaining a healthy team dynamic.

¹Carmeli, A., Brueller, D., & Dutton, J. E. (2009). Learning behaviours in the workplace: The role of high‐quality interpersonal relationships and psychological safety. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 26(1), 81-98.
²Berscheid, E. S., & Regan, P. C. (2016). Psychology of Interpersonal Relationships. Psychology Press.
Anna Webber

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