You walk into the office and no one looks up. Instantly, there’s that gut-wrenching feeling of being invisible and the distressing thought of another lonely day at work. Or you walk into the office kitchen and clench your teeth in frustration because that same messy co-worker hasn’t cleaned up after themselves—yet again.

People are never easy to live with, much less work with, especially in high-stakes environments where stress, deadlines, and competition leave little time to get to know one another. Instead of connecting, we tend to question our co-workers’ intentions. This adds to our stress, lowers performance, and makes enemies of the very people who can advance our success or happiness at work.

Luckily, there’s a lot that we can do to build better workplace relationships.

Framework to Build Better Workplace Relationships

It’s helpful to approach relational skills as a 2×2 framework, with a y-axis representing the person of focus and an x-axis representing their needs. The person axis should be labeled “Me” on the top and “Other” on the bottom, while the needs axis should be labeled “Unseen” and “Unsupported” on the right and left ends, respectively.

To use this framework to build better workplace relationships, think of a person or group of people at work with whom you would like to forge a better relationship. Depending on how you’re feeling or what’s going on in the relationship, the four quadrants of the framework will guide you on what you can do differently.

Quadrant 1: Me Feeling Unseen

It’s terrible to feel ignored or, worse, to be on the receiving end of microaggressions. However, it helps to give the other party the benefit of the doubt rather than assume hostility or jump to conclusions. Perhaps the reason for not including you is unclear, or they may not recall your name and are hesitant to inquire. Maybe they’re ignorant and are simply acting out their cultural biases.

Your job is to manage your presence so you’re seen in the relationship. Be the one to say “Hi, how’s everyone doing?” when you enter the office. If that seems like a stretch, begin by befriending one person whom you can say hi to, or at least make eye contact with and smile.

Ask if you can join their group during lunch rather than eating alone in your cubicle. And when in the group, listen intently and add to the conversation when you have something interesting to offer.

If someone says something that feels disrespectful to you or your culture, first try responding from a place of curiosity. Ask what makes them say so, and educate them on why they may be mistaken. If you discover that the beliefs or biases are too deep on the other side, the appropriate response is a firm boundary, including separating yourself from the situation.

Quadrant 2: Me Feeling Unsupported

Feeling seen is about feeling safe in the company of another; feeling supported is about having a champion in them.

If you feel the other person isn’t supportive of your goals—perhaps your boss doesn’t give helpful feedback that would allow you to succeed, or a colleague shares their wins with you but rarely asks you about your goals—your job is to ask for what you want rather than assuming they should know.

Most people, even with the best of intentions, are too busy doing their own thing to think about our goals, much less about how to help us achieve them. The more specific we are, the easier we make it for them.

Here are two simple questions you need to answer with as much clarity as possible:

1. What do you want? And why is it important to you, the other party, or the organization?

2. How can they help you achieve it? For example, do you want them to tell others about your skills or qualifications, or to guide you on your areas of growth and give you proactive feedback?

Quadrant 3: The Other Feeling Unsupported

This is the flip side of the same coin of support, and it begins with a simple question: How can I support you in achieving your goals?

You can ask this question of anyone you want to support. It could be a colleague or a team member. It could also be your boss—how can you help your boss stand out as a leader?

In his book Give and Take, Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, says that the most successful people are those who can ask and take at the same time. This doesn’t necessarily have to be within the same relationship. But the reality is that those who rise to the top of their success ladder are those who lift as they climb.

Be mindful of beliefs and biases that may get in the way of supporting others. If you’re stalled in your own growth, you’ll find it very difficult to help others advance. Similarly, If you feel unsupported and had to work hard to get where you are, you may resist supporting those below you.

This is especially true in diversity, equity, and inclusion work—to lift others, we have to first become aware of our beliefs around sexual orientation, class, race, age, and all forms of isms that are interwoven into our current culture, so we can usher in a new world of mutual belonging. This brings us to the final quadrant.

Quadrant 4: The Other Feeling Unseen

Building a culture of safety and inclusion is about creating a heartfelt connection with one another. Law professor john a. powell, an internationally recognized expert in the area of civil liberties, says that to do so, we need to value feelings over facts and learn to see others in their full humanity.

I find Esther and Jerry Hicks’ work on the law of attraction very helpful in this regard. They talk about six things that lead to conversations of deep listening, empathy, and connection: that the other person is good (as are we), is powerful, is free, has value, is loved, and that we are connected.

We have no training in such conversations. The speed of modern life has eroded our tolerance for typical office distractions like a loud co-worker or the noise of crunchy chips. But we can still discover our innate ability to experience and express empathy and positive regard.

When we make the other person feel seen, it brings out the best in both of us. Such is the magic of relationships and the magic of being able to build better workplace relationships!

A version of this article originally appeared on Happify.

Sign up to get emails, blogs and subcriber only free content.
Share this post: