A huge thank you to Christina for inviting me to write this blog. I've been on something of a writing sabbatical recently, not for any particular reason, but two people asked recently how my writing was going, so I thought, why not get back into it?
Whether you're the CEO, in sales, or work in front of house, one of the key skills needed to be successful is the ability to build good working relationships. As you gain more experience as an assistant, the assumption is that the people you work with will also become more senior. You may work for an MD, business head and then for a board member. As the nature of the work becomes more complex, you will need to hone a few specific skills to be successful. One is the ability to build positive relationships. It's not companies that talk to one another; it's people. If you make the effort to build relationships with colleagues, clients, and vendors it makes life a lot easier.
When working in a CEO’s office a few years ago, it became clear to me that although I didn’t need to do every task myself, I did need to build trust with my colleagues. Doing this would allow me to rely on other people's expertise as well as being able to call in the odd favour. I also observed how the CEO worked with people. He always made an effort to be friendly and collegial with everyone irrespective of their role. This made our working environment very pleasant. Tricky requests often came my way - sourcing last-minute restaurant reservations, flights or tickets to a client event - this encouraged me to build those all-important relationships. That way when I needed help, I knew who to call or at least one of my contacts did!
Sounds simple, but how do you go about doing this?
Less of the robot and more of the personal touch, please. Whilst we live in an automated world, I do think we need a refresher in treating people in a polite and professional manner. How many times have you called someone or emailed them and received no pleasantries, no hi, no thanks - just, "can you...." ? Regularly I’m sure. We're all busy, but finding time for hello, please, thank you and how are you can turn a simple transaction into an enjoyable exchange that you would want to repeat.
I’m am a huge believer in sharing information and asking for help; why reinvent the wheel unnecessarily? Some people are naturally helpful and are a source of valuable information, so I make a point of staying in touch with them. When there is something I come across that can help them, I am more than happy to share it.
Another strategy I like to use when working with others on the same project is "If you... then I..." This trading language shows that you want to help but that you also need help. It’s a great way to cement a close working relationship, especially when there is a lot to do in a very short space of time.
Very often we only tend to give feedback when something bad happens. I am not a fan of this approach. When someone has gone out of their way to help me, I make a point of calling or messaging them to say thank you for giving more than expected. When things don’t go so well, the feedback I give is to help us both get a smoother outcome the next time around - showing that I value this person and would like things to work out better next time.
Finally, I like to lead by example. I have had some truly outstanding colleagues and role models throughout my career and think it’s important to be the change in the world that you want to see. I like to be treated well, therefore, I do my best to treat others in this way. I recently read Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, who has put delivering exceptional service at the heart of everything the company does. A truly inspiring approach as it values everyone in the company irrespective of their level of seniority.
Like any skill, this takes time and practice. The more you make the effort to treat people well the more they will respond in kind.
Sitara Warren is an EA and Office Manager. She has worked in the City of London in financial services for most of her career and it is there that she has honed a strong work ethic as well as a strong network! She was the co-chair of the Women’s Initiative for three years at her firm and part of her role was sourcing and providing personal development training to London members of the network, such as negotiation training.
You can connect with Sitara via LinkedIn.