What Is a Professional Relationship?

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When it comes to building a career, developing your ability to foster professional relationships while working on the job can help you create a solid foundation for growing in your role. Those relationships can also be vital in your job education and experiences as you climb the ladder.

However, there are various types of professional relationships — and boundaries — that are important to maintain so your professional life doesn’t cross into your personal life in potentially damaging ways. Let’s take a deeper look into what makes up a professional relationship, why they’re important and how you can build and maintain a few of your own.

What Is a Professional Relationship?

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A professional relationship is built between two or more professionals and observes a set of established boundaries or limits. This kind of relationship is typically built among employees working at the same company. However, it’s possible to build connections at other companies and organizations in and outside of your professional field.

Professional relationships are ultimately cultivated to help serve you as you work towards tasks on your job and goals in your career. These relationships are key in career development, as they allow you to potentially learn from others and utilize key connections to advance.

Types of Professional Relationships

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There are several types of professional relationships you’ll likely encounter in your career. The first are those you develop with your coworkers, who may be other individuals within your organization that you’re acquainted with. You may not work directly alongside them, but you know who they are and may chat with them occasionally. You may also have professional relationships with other stakeholders in your company (such as suppliers and customers).

Different from other types of coworkers, your team members are likely those who are a part of your specific department. You work alongside them regularly to accomplish various goals and complete tasks for your department. Many employees have “work friends” that they’ve met on the job and grown fairly close to. You may go out to lunch with them or go on walks together regularly, and you may even spend time together outside of work.

A vital professional relationship is the one you’ll have with your manager or direct supervisor. Your manager determines your hours and tasks while on the job. You also likely work with that person to review your career objectives and accomplishments each year and determine whether you’ll receive a pay raise.

Another important professional relationship that some may have is one with a mentor. This relationship is typically more intimate than one with a manager, as a mentor often works with you directly and provides guidance to help you navigate through and succeed in the professional world.

The Difference Between Personal and Professional Relationships

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Though professional relationships can be sources of support in your work, it’s important not to blur the lines between your professional and personal lives. Doing so can have serious ramifications in your career. Let’s look at the differences between a personal and a professional relationship.

Personal Relationships

Personal relationships are the relationships you have with your family and friends. Some of these connections are forged from birth, while you might’ve developed others during your younger years at school or with people in your neighborhood. These personal relationships are created and maintained out of love, trust and care for others.

You may be disappointed in, argue with or face hurdles with others in a personal relationship. However, that’s not necessarily something that can hurt you professionally (unless you’re doing business with a close friend).

Professional Relationships

It can be easy to blur the line between personal and professional relationships because you may have professional relationships with people you truly like. However, these relationships aren’t forged simply because you like those individuals. The relationships arise because you work with these people or can learn from them in ways that help you pursue your career goals.

Although it’s fine to foster fun relationships at work — within reason — it’s important to remember that these relationships aren’t meant to become too intimate. You don’t want to overshare or grow too friendly with a fellow professional; there’s a possibility that you could face retaliation or even lose your job because of a jealous, offended or disgruntled coworker or manager. You can be friendly, but you may never truly know the intentions of another person in a professional relationship.

How to Build Professional Relationships

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Though you want to keep professional relationships professional, these relationships can help you in your career. There are some great tips to develop professional relationships. While you don’t want to be a know-it-all or “boss’ pet,” you do want to demonstrate that you’re an exceptional, positive worker. People are more likely to enjoy interacting with those who have positive interactions with others and get their work done.

Your communication and listening skills should also be top-notch to build better professional relationships. Ineffective communication in these relationships can lead to more stress, low morale and failure to complete tasks by deadlines. Be willing to actively listen to and understand others instead of just listening so you can reply. Also, be sure not to gossip around the office. Gossip quickly travels around a company, as does the source of that gossip. This can be harmful to your professional relationships.

Why Are Professional Relationships Important?

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Professional relationships are key in achieving goals for yourself as an individual and for any teams you’re working with. For example, maintaining good professional relationships with suppliers and customers is vital when you have sales goals to reach. Building a good professional relationship with your team members and coworkers is important when you’re working on tasks or developing any business plans set forth by upper management.

You can benefit from maintaining a good working relationship with your direct manager as well. Analyze how your manager works, and anticipate their needs if possible to facilitate a smoother workflow. If you are a manager, building relationships with employees who report to you allows you to understand and better utilize their strengths for the good of the company. You can also identify areas where they can grow in their careers.

Maintaining Professional Relationships

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It takes work to build a professional relationship, but maintaining a professional relationship takes work too. If your work relationships with others are important to you and your career, you’ll want to take the time to keep those people around. In professional relationships, you want to be sure to check in with others offline now and then. Work to understand and network with them beyond social media to foster deeper connections.

Also, let your work relationships go beyond simple work conversations. Ask a bit about some of the personal interests of those you want to build relationships with instead of only talking about work. Celebrate wins and special moments. Another effective way to stay in good standing with professional connections is to offer to help these folks with the challenges they may face. Show your appreciation or make an introduction that could be helpful to them and their careers. Be sure that any conversations you have or offers you make are genuine and come from a place of sincerity and support.