The Science of Building Relationships at Work

By Susan Gabriel
Building and maintaining relationships at work are often critical to advancing on the job. Having the technical skills to do the job gets you in the door, but it isn’t enough to help you advance into management and leadership positions. For that, you need to understand how to relate to others.
Understanding how our brain works is a secret to successful relationships, and there are ways to approach how you interact with others to make sure that you’re sending the right messages about yourself and your intentions. You can build trust, which will make you a more effective leader.
One model to use is SCARF, developed by David Rock at the NeuroLeadership Institute. These are the things to consider when dealing with others at work:

  • Status refers to your sense of importance relative to others (e.g., peers, co-workers, friends, supervisors). If you embarrass a colleague in front of others you are losing points in your relationship. Instead, take time to recognize others’ accomplishments.
  • Certainty refers to your need for clarity and the ability to make accurate predictions about the future. When you follow through on actions you have committed to, you are gaining points by doing what you say you will do. You are building a reputation as someone that can be counted on. If you take on too much and are unable to meet deadlines, or the quality of the work you produce suffers, you will be seen as someone that cannot be trusted.
  • Autonomy is tied to a sense of control over the events in your life and the perception that your behavior affects the outcome of a situation (e.g., getting a promotion, finding a partner). By allowing others to have a voice in decisions, you increase their feeling of comfort and control.
  • Relatedness concerns your sense of connection to and security with another person (e.g., whether someone is perceived as similar or dissimilar to oneself, a friend or a foe). Helping others to feel a part of the group at work helps them to feel comfortable and engaged.
  • Fairness refers to fair exchanges between people (e.g., praise for or acknowledgment of your efforts, equivalent pay for equivalent work, sharing a candy bar with everyone, etc). If you are consistent with others in how you interact with and support others, you gain points in this area.

By keeping the SCARF model in mind as you relate to others, you can ensure that you will be building relationship skills that will serve you well in management and leadership positions. Stop and think about your conversations and interactions with others; are you earning influence, or are you turning people off?