We navigate through multiple personalities during the course of a day. The minute we step into the workplace, from the security gate to the front desk to the elevator to the office floor to the cafeteria and other common areas, we need to interact with co-workers, managers, clients, various support teams, etc. Sometimes we choose who we want to interact with, other times we may not have a choice.

It has been well established that social integration is key to long term success and happiness. A typical study points out that many of us spend 70 to 80 percent of our waking hours in some form of communication. Even if we work from home, we cannot go about our day without communicating with someone. What we should realize is that overall satisfaction in life depends on how successfully we interact with each other.

Now imagine if the daily discussions were stressful or difficult or if you felt that your voice is not heard or understood. Imagine if you were unsure who to talk to about a particular situation or challenge. Whether you could trust them enough to give you the right advice let alone motivate you to go beyond your duties.

When I started working in a large corporate, I was fortunate to be assigned a mentor who gave me direction and guidance in work related matters. However, there was no one to coach me on how to interact with fellow colleagues and managers and other people at office in the most productive way. I had to learn the art of communication and relationships on the job and it was not easy.

Through many trial and errors, I understood who to trust, who to seek advice from, who to be friends with, who to look up to and who to completely avoid. In the course of my 16 odd years of working for corporates and startups, I encountered 15 managers and 100s of team members who pushed me to question what I thought I knew about human behavior. I began to see patterns of repetitive behaviors and traits and this helped me to understand people better and to work effectively with them. This new understanding gave me the invaluable skill to have the right expectations from relationships, predict the outcomes of most interactions and make the right decisions and choices at work.

Here are my biggest learnings from my experiences and interactions with colleagues over the years:

1) There are multiple personalities but repitive patterns of behaviour: I have had the opportunity to work in two countries and done business transactions with at least 15 countries across the globe. People may differ with respect to backgrounds, nationality and experiences but the characteristics and traits they exhibit at work have similar patterns. Hence, the process to better understand any colleague or business partner across the globe is pretty much the same.

2) Not everyone has the same understanding of people: You will agree that everyone has a different level of IQ and EQ. Similarly, everyone has a different level of ability, skill, knowledge, experience and practice. I believe understanding others requires both a natural ability as well as acquired skills. With practice one can improve these abilities/skills and improve relationships.

3) It is equally important to understand yourself: If you need to understand others better, it is crucial that your perceptions and judgments are not clouded with biases, prejudices, influences or beliefs. Hence a good understanding of your own behavior, attitude, belief system, thoughts and desires is important. Good coaches, counselors and psychologists can help you in this regard.

4) Good relationships are directly proportional to the number of interactions: Look back at your first year of dating someone and compare that to your 2nd or 5th year. Sometimes you can even predict how your better half will behave in a particular situation. This phenomena applies to office interactions and work relationships as well. However it does require time and focused effort to learn about each other. Also note that the converse of this point (4) is not true.

5) Every interaction teaches you something new about someone: As mentioned earlier, we have multiple interactions with someone during the course of the day via text, phone, video, meetings or emails. While text communication can be misleading as they do not sometimes provide the context or “tone” of the message, verbal, video or face-to face communication is very effective in revealing the traits and characteristics of people. Conflict situations, spats or differences can provide a wealth of information as well.

Studies show that our social world contains on an average 150 people and maintaining connections could benefit our health, wellbeing and longevity. In the professional world, connections are equally important for growth and productivity. Unfortunately some of us are not good at understanding others and as a result struggle to achieve our full potential. However through careful observation, analysis, knowledge and practice one can make better sense of the world around us and accordingly benefit from social connections. However the process in not as simple as it sounds. Feel free to reach out to me at [email protected] for more information.