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Building Work Relationships

This model anchors our workshop on building work relationships. It recognizes that relationship building is a process, defines the elements of the process and the relationship between the elements. This allows participants to develop skills in each element and assess where current relationships may be struggling. Click on the model to explore the elements of relationship building.

— Interactive Diagram: Use Mouse to Navigate  —

Building Work Relationships

Building strong work relationships establishes trust, increases personal risk taking, and leads to more open and honest communications. High levels of trust and risk taking create the ideal environment for determining the right things to do when taking action. Therefore establishing work relationships are an essential fundamental of maximizing people performance.


Self-Esteem is our evaluation of who we are as people, and controls how and what people communicate to others. If someone with low self-esteem does not like the way your are treating them they will probably not tell you directly; they are more likely to talk about your to others. Someone with high self-esteem can talk about you, and then can talk too you if they do not like the way you are treating them - the higher our self-esteem, the more options we have when communicating with others.

Higher self- esteem leads to higher personal risk taking, and higher risk taking leads to more open and honest communications. Open and honest communications gives us an information rich environment for key business processes such as planning, decision-making, problem solving, and conflict resolution. Therefore it is in everyoneís interest to maintain and enhance the self-esteem of people they work with.


Self-disclosure is sharing information about your self so other people can understand you in the moment — it is how people get to know who you are and where you are coming from. The more we self-disclose, the more information people have to understand who we are, how we work, and how we work with others. The more we self-disclose, the more we can benefit from each others learning and experiences.

But self-disclosing is risky; people sometimes use what we tell them against us. This leads some to conclude that the safest thing to do is to not self-disclose. I once had a boss who said; “Peters, people think your smart; donít open up your mouth and prove them wrong.” My boss was wrong. People may reject me for what I say and think, but if I donít self-disclose they will reject me anyway — they will see me as a non-team player and a low risk taker who wouldnít say crap if he had a mouth full!

The only thing riskier than self-disclosing is not self-disclosing. People must make judgments about you anyway. If you donít give people information to understand who you are, they will be left with only superficial information to make these judgments such as race, gender, age, dress, and weight. Risk is an inherent part of life, in relationship building the more you try to avoid it, the more you create it.


Acceptance is the process of understanding and valuing what others self-disclose to us. Acceptance does not necessarily mean agreement; it simply is the way we let other people know that we understand what they disclose, and value that they took the risk to disclose it to us.

Acceptance is absolutely essential for building trust. When others are consistently accepting of our disclosures it builds trust; we learn we can trust disclosing, even when the other person may disagree with what we are disclosing. Trust is something that is earned, and you earn it by the way you deal with people when they self-disclose to you.

Trust and Risk

Trust and risk create a dilemma in relationship building. We do not like to take risks with people we do not trust; but we can not build trust without taking a risk. It is this dilemma that often makes relationship building such a difficult process. And it brings us back to self-esteem; the higher our self-esteem, the more willing we are to take a risk to build trust and to acceptance differences that we may not agree with or like.

You can start building relationships by taking the first risk and be disclosing; risk taking tends to rise to the level of the highest risk taker, and your disclosing can raise the bar for the other person. You can also start building relationships by being accepting; let other people know their disclosures are safe with you.

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Building Work Relationships (PDF)

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