Leading with communication : a guide to building strong relationships in the workplace

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  • 06 min. reading
  • Workplace

Lorraine is a senior marketing project manager at Colruyt. From party planner to skilled communicator this mom of 2 (and a dog!) has a lifetime’s worth of inspiring experiences in the art of project management. Her secret? It’s all in the relationships she builds along the way…

By her own admission, Lorraine is kind of a type A person: very neat, meticulous and organised. She is always put together and so is her desk which she likes uncluttered, save for a stack of post it’s, a notebook and a pen. « I am a bit old school » she says, preferring calling over texting, and writing to do lists by hand. This no-nonsense, pragmatic attitude brings her comfort, just as much as a good cup of tea, which she likes hot and preferably near an open fire in a mountain cottage with her family.

At first glance, one might think that Lorraine perfected her communication and project management skills from her role as a mother. It is true that every evening after work, she changes into her mom suit - « I put on my taxi hat! » she laughs - but she assures us she’s always been good at it, long before the kids came.

At 17, Lorraine started studying economics after her parents had discouraged her to study communication. 6 months into the program however, she left, citing that although she was good with numbers, she simply felt miserable and longed for a human connection. As a student, she often worked as a hostess, and that eventually got her interested in event planning, a job she excelled at for a number of years. She later moved to a position with more traditional hours when she started her family.


All work and no play make Jack a dull boy

In her job, she thrives as a stellar communicator, and when we ask her about motivation, her answer is simple : it’s the atmosphere. « Being happy and in a good mood is to be halfway there » she explains, adding that a positive relationship with your coworkers, regardless of hierarchy, will get you anywhere. But you can’t just jumpstart a meaningful connection with your colleagues, especially in a work setting that more often than not favours a silent and studious atmosphere over that of a cosy coffee shop. Don’t worry though, because Lorraine has got some tips for you on how to set a happy mood and actively foster connections that last the test of time.


Finding the right balance

To begin with, Lorraine makes the best out of her hybrid work arrangement. Her home office is where she concentrates and gets things done. “I’m quite chatty” she admits, and when she’s home her only coworker is her - not so chatty - dog. He makes a great buddy though, helping her get fresh air when it’s time to go for a walk. At the office, there are more distractions “I work for a food retailer so there is a shop downstairs, and quite often someone will suggest going to the shop and get something to eat”. That’s exactly what office days should be all about : team building isn’t just a matter of a random pub quizz or a VR experience. It’s the odd quest with your peers, going to the coffee machine upstairs for a change or trying the new lunch spot around the corner that will help you get past the surface level.


Embracing transparency

Next, Lorraine shared with us her secret power: empathy. In her opinion, transparency and honesty are the building blocks of trust, which is a pillar of good communication. All her life, she has made it her utmost priority to make any of her interlocutors feel heard and seen. It’s a muscle one you must train in order to be a good communicator, and she explained how it is all about providing a safe, judgement free space to the people around you. One can do so by following Lorraine’s advice to take ownership for potential mistakes and shortcomings, and offering an honest version of themselves. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable will help others feel confident to open up and share. When you start truly seeing the human behind the mask, that’s when you can begin to create meaningful relationships. This will not only help you in your project at work (walking a mile in somebody else’s shoes does wonders to understand any issue you may face as a project manager), it is also a great resource for all your relationships.


Going beyond 

Lorraine’s last tip is one we are particularly fond of, and hope to implement in our own day to day routine. Every morning, even when she works from home, Lorraine always takes the time to have an informal coffee chat with some colleagues before the day starts. It’s a laid back alternative to the daily stand ups we see popping up everywhere, and one that is completely removed from the shackles of productivity. During the morning chat, no one is to speak of their current work related project. The goal here is to give your colleagues and yourself an opportunity to share things about life outside of work. Here, Lorraine makes heavy use of her listening powers, with great results : “a former colleague of mine actually called me the other day to tell me she wanted to change job because she missed those 5 min of catching up”. Now the coffee chat can take any shape that suits you best, so if your new friends prefer a cocktail over a cuppa, no one is stopping you from meeting for after work drinks!

Team work makes the dream work

Why does it work so well to prioritise interpersonal skills to feel happy at work ? Sure, having a job you like is a good start, but in the words of Lorraine “it’s the people you work with that make it great”. The office setting however, is a paradoxical space when it comes to friendships. We are told not to bring the office back home yet we work from our own living room, we are asked to leave our personal issues at the door when we come to work and to be professional, but building friendship based on a corporate facade is nearly impossible. We are invited to mandatory team building activities we don’t get to pick or choose, resulting in potentially uncomfortable situations that would be much more bearable… if only we had been given the space beforehand to connect first as humans and not workers. Only then can we truly experience an actual feeling of togetherness that is not solely based on a mutual disdain for mandatory fun. 

Prioritising the human aspect of your job is key. Remember how nobody liked it when in high school the friends were separated for group projects. Well, the same goes for work projects as well. So next time you feel a spark, a glimmer of connection across the table in a team meeting, learn to nurture it. For that, you just need to keep Lorraine’s tip in mind : find side quests, be vulnerable. Don’t hesitate to take time outside of your work commitments to truly care for your new connections and allow them to blossom into strong friendships that make working together a breeze.

Find out more about Happiness at Work in our expert panel talk!


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