Work is hard enough, but what often makes work so arduous is the lack of healthy relationships in the office. Moreover, the growth of virtual relationships often leaves people without many true friendships. Add to that the fact that most people today spend about 10 hours a day at work, which means that they might interact with fellow professionals in the office more than friends and family at home. So why not make an effort to make these workplace relationships more personal and more fulfilling?
If you look at the Scriptures, you will find many principles and tangible examples for making life more personal and relational. Here’s a list of 10 ideas. Feel free to add more in the comments section!
- Encourage someone. “Encourage one another and build each other up.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11) A friend of mine who is the CEO of a large company in São Paulo keeps a stack of high quality greeting cards in his desk. When he sees one of his employees doing good work, he pulls out a card and writes a note of encouragement to the person. He doesn’t just send an email; he writes the card in his own hand and delivers them personally. On a few occasions, the employee who received the card came to thank my friend with tears of gratitude in their eyes.
- Put others first. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” (1 John 3:16) Years ago I knew of two friends who vied for the same newspaper job. One had a pregnant wife and desperately needed the job. The other man called up the newspaper’s managing editor and suggested that the newspaper award the job to his friend. The newspaper gave the job to the soon-to-be father and the other guy sat on the bench with no other leads. Three months later, the newspaper called him and said that they wanted to hire him for a new position. The two friends worked together as reporters for the next several years.
- Eat together. Read through the New Testament and you’ll be amazed at how often Jesus ate with his disciples. The early church also spent significant times around the table eating together. There’s something about sharing good food and drink that bonds people together in friendship. So instead of using your lunch breaks to get time alone, use the time to share a meal with your colleagues.
- Wash feet. Jesus, at his last meal with his friends, washed their feet. I don’t recommend that you do this in your office, lest you be sent home for a permanent vacation. But when Jesus washed the feet of his friends, he was only performing a typical, mundane task that no one liked to do but that had to be done. The point isn’t the feet. What’s important is to be aware of the simple needs of those around you. When you see a need—small or large—do something to help and serve. Little acts of service can mean a lot these days.
- Pursue deep discussions. Most people are a little fearful of intimacy and transparency, but they still long to go beyond small talk. People long for meaningful and rich conversations. Jesus was a master of getting people to open up about what was happening in their hearts. One idea for creating an environment for deeper dialogue is to start a lunch-time or after-work book discussion group. Choose a book they want to read and then ask good questions.
- Practice Hospitality. The word hospitality, obviously, comes from the word hospital. And there are a lot of broken people out there who need personal care. My wife and I have made it a point over many years to use our home as a makeshift hospital—not for medical attention, but for providing friendship. We’ve served hundreds of meals and washed countless dishes, but it’s remarkable how respected and valued people feel when you invite them into your home.
- Use Humor. My Dad refused to let the work environment become too serious and stodgy. So he invented ways to keep the office laughing and light. And laughter helped him gain friendships. He was a master prankster. On one occasion, when I was a teen, he advertised a yard sale in the newspaper—at his colleague’s home address. He then rented a moving van and together we filled it with all sorts of junk, everything from manikins to old lawn mowers to a grocery store sunglasses rack. At 2 a.m. on the day of the advertised yard sale, we quietly deposited all the junk on his friend’s lawn. By 8 a.m., crowds of people started showing up and ringing his doorbell. He spent his Sunday selling or giving away the junk. My Dad’s friend got some revenge however, because he made about $300 from the sale.
- Listen. Many people think that they have to talk a lot to develop a friendship. Not true. Jesus spoke to the crowds from time-to-time, but read through the four Gospels and watch for all the ways that Jesus listened to people. He would ask them significant questions and then listen. (See the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, for example. John 4.) There’s nothing more personal than asking sincere questions about another person and then listening carefully to them.
- Seek collaboration. I get the impression that Jesus wasn’t much of a classroom teacher. He seemed to enjoy helping people learn through experience. So he went out an invited a bunch of guys to follow him and work with him. Although conflict can emerge, working together toward a common goal and adventure is a great way to build friendship. J.R.R. Tolkien portrays this beautifully in his Lord of the Rings trilogy.
- Say you’re sorry. One manager I know, at a time of severe stress and pressure at work, lost his temper and blew up in the office. He stood up and railed against a fellow employee, bringing a terrible silence over the entire office. The next day the manager went back to the office and apologized to the person, who accepted the apology but said, “I’ve never had anyone say they were sorry to me. Thank you.” A deeper friendship was born and the manager gained reputation for being a humble person. The moral of the story is that when we are humble and admit our errors, we reduce the pride that causes conflict and tension in workplace relationships.
This is just a short list of ways that you can improve the relational quality of your office. What might you add to this list?