The secret to kick ass work relationships

By Michelle McQuaid | May 17, 13 08:38 AM

Counting your colleagues as friends not only makes going to work a whole lot of fun ... it's also great for your performance.

As a natural introvert, relationships with other people – especially at work – have never come easy.  Overly invested in my own anxieties about being “good enough”, finding the confidence to just walk up to people and expect them to like me is an attitude I’m still learning to pull off.

To be honest, most of my career I’ve been happy just to put my head down, get on with my work and hope what I do will eventually earn the respect and affection of others.

That was until I came across some research suggesting rather than what we do, it’s who we do it with that predicts our levels of engagement and wellbeing at work.

In fact, having a best friend at work can make you better at engaging customers, help you to produce higher quality work and it’s less likely you’ll be injured on the job.

“Our relationships with other people matter, and matter more than anything else in the world,” explains George Vaillant, a leading psychiatrist who is famous for overseeing one of the longest running psychological studies of all time – the Harvard Grant Study which found social bonds don’t just predict overall happiness but also eventual career achievement, occupational success, and even income.

Convinced it was worth trying to shake up my introverted tendencies, I decided to test three different positive psychology techniques to see if I could improve my relationships at work:

Hunt for strengths – your brain is hardwired to quickly notice the things you don’t like about people, making it a little slower at finding their strengths (the things they like doing and are good at).  Yet because we all have a deep psychological need to be respected and appreciated, finding what you can genuinely value in people is a relationship skill we should be taught early on.

I put this one to the test with one of my most challenging colleagues and quickly realised her strength of “delivering on a plan no matter what”, was being regularly tried by my strength of “contributing creative ideas”.  We were like oil and water! 

The funny thing was, once I was able to see and value her strength for what it bought to our business - rather than being personally affronted by her aversion to risk - the animosity soon drained from our relationship and we‘ve been able to get along much better.

The VIA Institute has a great free guide to character strengths you can use to help you spot what’s good in others.

Practice gratitude – countless studies suggest this is a mega strategy to improve your levels of positivity and your relationships. It opens your heart and urges you to give back – to do something good in return – helping to nurture new relationships and improve existing ones.

I decided each night before I’d log off at work I’d take the time to genuinely thank at least one person for something they’d done. Sometimes it was face-to-face, by phone or even email, but I was always specific about what they’d done and why I appreciated it. 

In less than a month the most amazing things started to happen.  A tidal wave of gratitude started being returned to me.  Emails of thanks and messages of appreciation were pouring in … many from people I hadn’t even reached out to yet!  It changed the way I felt about my colleagues.

Try it before you log off each night for one week.  Who would you thank and why?

Create connection rituals – Studies suggest people who have at least three or four very close friendships at work are healthier, have higher wellbeing and are more engaged in their jobs.  One of the best ways to nurture our relationships at work is to create rituals which allow us to get together with people on a regular basis.

Sick of always telling people “we must catch up”, I decided to create a ritual to invite a colleague to lunch every Tuesday.  Soon even my naturally extroverted husband was amazed at how these workplace friendships were spilling over into our personal lives.

Be it coffee, a lunch or a walk around the block, who would you like to connect more with at the office?

Like most of positive psychology, none of these techniques are rocket science, but rather simple, practical habits that can improve the quality of our lives and our levels of happiness.

If there was one small, daily habit you could use to improve your relationships at work what would you like to start?

Michelle McQuaid is a positive psychology researcher, author and workplace trainer. She’s a proven expert in bringing out the best in people at work. With her playful, scientific approach Michelle fuses positive psychology and neuroscience into simple, practical actions that anyone can take to create life-changing habits that last. Through her videos, books, training programs and games she's helped thousands of people to make work more rewarding and her blend of real-world successes, actionable advice and enthusiasm for life ensure Michelle's a favorite of audiences around the world!

Michelle will be presenting at the 8th annual Happiness & Its Causes conference 19 – 20 June in Melbourne. For more information and to register, please visit


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