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How To Build Meaningful Relationships at Work


One of the most rewarding aspects of working in primary care is building meaningful relationships with colleagues and patients. It is at the heart of general practice. However, working in primary care can sometimes feel like a rudderless setting, each person cracking on with the day’s task. It’s essential to foster a positive culture that allows for meaningful relationship to emerge in the organisation. A place where open communication and mutual support were the norm.

As a GP you are at the centre of the organisational leadership in primary care and you are in the business of offering appointments to patients to address their health needs. You’ve enlisted the support of your colleagues, allied medical staff and administrative staff to assist you in offering the terms of the GP contract. Therefore, it falls on you to create a workplace where staff can experience psychological safety. See our article on Joy in Work.

Is your work a Vocation or a Job

It’s really important to think about how you see your job and what it means to you. A good way to begin is to think about whether you think of it as just a job or something more special, like a vocation. This matters because how you act at work and the relationships you build might mean different things depending on whether you see your work as just a job or something you’re really passionate about.

A job is primarily viewed as a means to earn a living and provide for yourself and your family. It often involves tasks or responsibilities that you may not be particularly passionate about. People often take on jobs for financial security and stability, even if the work doesn’t align closely with their personal interests or values.

On the other hand, a vocation goes beyond the idea of a job. It represents a strong calling or sense of purpose in one’s work. When you have a vocation, your career is not just a way to make money; it’s a fulfilling and meaningful path that resonates with your values, interests, and passions. Vocations often align closely with one’s personal beliefs, and individuals with vocations tend to find deep satisfaction and fulfilment in their work. Any wonder the GP training is called a vocational training scheme (VTS)!

Most people who work in healthcare find this type of work deeply rewarding as it aligns with their passion and beliefs. These core values should engender respect and understanding among staff members, hence you should be able to develop meaningful relationships at work.

Keep this in your thoughts as you consider how to make good relationships at work. Building strong relationships isn’t always straightforward, and that’s why we’re here with this article to guide you.

Ease of Colleague Interaction:

What is considered a friendly or professional gesture by one person might be viewed differently by another. This is because there is a high level of subjectivity to workplace relationships and it’s important to understand that not everyone interprets interactions in the same way.

You may think that the ease with which you respond to queries of your colleagues is all you need to have a great relationship at work. This may lead to prematurely sharing personal stories suddenly to a colleague who is inadvertently a complete stranger to you. It’s essential to recognise that different people may have different perceptions of interactions therefore you should actively seek out ways to develop meaningful relationships outside of routine work tasks. Furthermore, while these professional interactions are necessary for collaboration and productivity, deeper and more meaningful connections often require efforts beyond the work related tasks and queries.

Personality types and characteristics:

You may have observed that individuals who are predominantly introverted often strive to maintain a peaceful and drama-free work environment. This approach can prevent unnecessary conflicts and create a more relaxed atmosphere. By consistently adhering to rules, policies, and ethical standards, these individuals can earn the trust of their colleagues. Similarly, those focused on earning a living often have a strong work ethic. Their commitment to their job responsibilities can inspire respect among coworkers. They are also more likely to prioritise job security and financial stability which in turn can lead to long-term commitments within the team, allowing relationships to grow and deepen over time. While these perspectives may not revolve around actively seeking enthusiastic and positive relationships, they can still contribute to meaningful relationships in various ways. By being consistent and reliable they are people you can build trust with. Also, focusing on professionalism and commitment to the job can lead to mutual respect among colleagues, which is a building block of great relationships. .

However, those who prioritise positive workplace relationships often emphasise open and transparent communication. They are more likely to engage in conversations with colleagues to foster understanding and trust. This perspective often encourages addressing conflicts openly and constructively, with the aim of resolving issues rather than avoiding them. This can lead to healthier working relationships in the long run. A colleague who values positive relationships might proactively organise team-building outings or initiate discussions to address any misunderstandings among team members. There should be room for different characteristics to thrive. Do you agree?

Exploring Alternative Ways to Build Relationships:

Staff Induction process:

When a new person joins the team, it’s important to help them fit in smoothly. This means giving them a good introduction to how things work. It should be practical, fun, and clear. This might include showing them their schedule, fixing computer issues, and making sure they complete necessary training. One practice even made it really interesting for their new trainee by doing a ‘treasure hunt.’ This fun activity helped the new person meet others on the team and learn some cool things about them. For example, they had to find out who had a certain middle name in the practice. This made it easy to start a conversation and see the friendly side of their new coworkers.

Team Building Activities:

Your practice can take part in a teamwork challenge where everyone uses their special skills to achieve a common goal. You can check out our article about 10 activities to boost staff wellbeing here. This can help your team members find out who they have similar interests with more easily.

Mentorship and Coaching:

To build strong relationships at work, you can have experienced colleagues help and guide newer ones. This type of relationship can grow beyond work ties. You can also pair up with a buddy to get to know each other better. Sometimes, doctors have meetings to talk about tricky patient situations, and this can help them feel more comfortable with each other over time. These sessions are called Balint meetings. In primary care, we should encourage similar meetings among teams and between different teams. There’s a group called ‘First5’ for GPs in their first 5 years after training, where they support each other. You can find more about it on the RCGP website. You can also create your own informal meetings with colleagues at work based on topics you’re interested in.

Social Events:

Practice staff can choose to have a relaxed dinner together after work, which gives them a chance to connect on a personal level. In some practices, they do this every week, and it has a good impact on their relationships over time.

Shared Hobbies and Interests:

If your coworkers are curious about cultural variety or share common interests and enjoy something like boat rides, you can plan to do it together outside of work. This can strengthen your bond as friends.

Celebrating Milestones:

You can remember and celebrate special times like birthdays and work anniversaries. Take a moment to chat with them about how they feel on these special days. When you listen and talk, it helps everyone feel more like a team and trust each other.

Support During Challenges:

Offer support and empathy when your colleagues face personal challenges or difficulties.

Balance and Flexibility:

Make an effort to help your staff when they have important things to do outside of work. For example, if they need to go to their child’s school event, try to change their work schedule to make it possible. This will make them feel happy and loyal to the workplace.

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