Climbing the corporate ladder is more of a relational process than mere gritty, hard work

When one thinks of “climbing the corporate ladder”, office politics comes to mind. And when one sees the word “relational process”, there’s almost a definite certainty forming in one’s mind of the linkage between office politics and the relationship-building process that enables one to make it up the upper rungs of the corporate ladder or the upper echelons of the corporate hierarchy.

But this is not what the article is about. In fact, this article serves to assert the fact that climbing the corporate ladder is more about establishing sincere relationships than merely forging collaborative ones which rings hollow in the center.

Furthermore, while it sounds controversial in saying that relationship-building is more important than hard work (seemingly to imply that laziness is a permissible trait when one is a “people” person), this is also not what the article stands for. Instead, it argues that fact that while hard work is an quintessential and vital quality to possess for any corporate employees, it’s one’s ability to establish, develop and sustain relationships that truly determines one’s success in the work place.

In a word, the ability to build strong and close relationships supercedes both hard work and office politics.

A worker may work hard but without the complementary and essential communication skills of relating to his or her colleagues, teamwork is weakened. This is fine if solitary works are the norm but the new economy calls for efficient and effective collaborations instead of self-sustaining, “go-it-alone” profession. All if not most organisations require teamwork for creative works, long-term projects and innovative endeavours. Solitary efforts are often admired and respected, but the output almost always falls short when compared to what a team can develop.

Office politics are merely power plays and when analysed in detail, what it comes down to is a matter of sheer self-preservation. Office politics are indulged in because it bestows power on the political player (although the power may not be all-encompassing at times), binding power players together (but creating segmentation and fragmentation within organisations). And because the objectives of office politics are almost always to stay secure by retaining power within the organisation, players are lured by the perceived security that office politics provide. However, internal conflicts and groupthink may result more from a political group than from a team whose members come together sincerely because the latter believe strongly and deeply  in doing something together that benefits themselves and others.

While the scope of describing and explaining the ways to establish, develop and build rapport are complex and broad ( thereby going beyond the scope of this article), the essence of relationship-building can still be outlined:

  • Compassion: It is not possible to develop people skills without understanding others. And the right way to understand others is through an in-depth understanding and faithful practice of compassion – of forgiving people who are angry (although we might be justified in being angry ourselves), of understanding other people’s perspective (although we might not always agree with them), of recognising other people’s talents and understanding that they, too, want to be recognised for their strengths and abilities. If a 1000-mile journey on the road to relationship success begins with a single step, then developing compassion for others is that first step. 
  • Respect: This is the second quality that one should learn and develop during the  relationship-building process. Respecting someone else seems simple enough during the good times but this will prove to be very challenging in times of duress, such as when we are angry, when we are met with an opposing perspective or when we encounter someone who just will not listen to reason or worse, with no sign of being apologetic when they are in the wrong. How then, can we be respectful at all times? It is important to note that to be respectful, we need not apologise profusely, especially when we are in the right (as this may mean being too accommodating, which may be counter-productive in times when assertiveness, not submissiveness,  is required) or acceding to any requests by the other party (since some requests might prove to be unreasonable). Instead, respect may mean that we need to voice out, to speak out our thoughts and concerns (it’s great to remember that respect goes both ways. Only when we respect ourselves will others respect us. Although it’s true that others will respect us when we respect others, it’s also right to say that others will also respect us when we respect ourselves, usually by speaking out).  Respect may also mean that we highlight the  reasons why we disagree with the other party in a polite manner while identifying the common goals that all of us are working towards. Consistently focusing on a common goal is one great way to turn adversaries into allies by enabling them to recognise and accept the fact that our disagreements are not against them but are directed at creating the common good in achieving the desired goals together. Doing so will remove all if not most forms of perceived animosity or aggressiveness commonly seen in arguing or opposing parties.
  • Negotiation skills: This is a commonly discussed skill in business settings but what seldom gets emphasised is that this is also a crucial skills in all aspects of life – parents wanting a child to obey them, children wanting his or her parents to buy a toy of  their fancy, teachers wanting to motivate their students, students wanting to get more reading time from their teachers or siblings discussing on what they want and expect from one another. There are some books which state that negotiation involves some form of power play. Ultimately, negotiation is about the respect we have for others and how much leeway are we willing to give based on that respect. The key to relationship-building through negotiation is to  always negotiate for things that benefit ourselves and others. When the other party realises that we are working towards the common good, they are more likely to relent and be a team player, going along with your endeavour rather than against you.
  • Marketing skills/Personal branding: Self-branding sometimes has a bad name, especially for those individuals or groups that revere humility. While humility is a trait that that should be advocated, promoted and practised, there are times when humility should be exercised and there are times where self-promotion should take precedence (although humility should always be there). For example, during job interviews where one needs to focus and elaborate on one’s skill sets, wouldn’t one say that we should self-promote in this instance while staying humble? In the workplace, when one’s strengths and abilities are able to give a particular upcoming project a strong boost, wouldn’t one say it will be more logical to promote oneself to the project team leader to offer our services and contributions  as a project member (with the prior support and approval of one’s boss, of course)? So, one should learn to be humble while knowing the moments to contribute one’s abilities to better the organisations that we work in for the benefits of both ourselves and others.
  • Personality: Just be yourself. It’s true. There are many who have lost themselves or wear social masks to conform to societal norms, and few things erode the essence of self faster than a bureaucratic corporate environment. Most organisations seek to nurture talents but profitability and short-term insights often undermine what most of such endeavours. One has to understand that every personality has its pros and cons and that there’s no perfect personality. When one is certain of this fact, one will be able to pluck up the courage to be ourselves. That’s when we will really shine. And when others realise and understand that we are happiest when we are ourselves, they will follow suit. And when everybody are themselves, sincerity inadvertently builds up and this is when real, open communications take place.
  • Fear: The act of succumbing to fear has killed the dreams of many and dashed the hope of the masses. To a certain degree, shyness is a result of fear. Fear of ridicule. Fear of being rejected. Fear of being ignored. For those shy individuals out there, here’s one word of advice: understand fear, feel it and then conquer it. Then see your social life improve right before your very eyes. Why does one hesitate in being an entrepreneur or starting a business? Fear of failure. Fear that what the naysayers say will come true. But if one do not try, one would not know success. And more great lessons are learnt in failures than in successes. Adopt and live the adage of “Fortune favours the bold“. It’s true. Courage begets courage. When we inspire ourselves, we inspire others and charisma is the result. Most people magnets are brave people, and their auras of courage are irresistibly attractive for this is a trait possessed by only a few.
  • Service: We should always live our lives with the thought that we live our entire lives in the service of others. In a world proliferated with consumerism, materialism and individualism in most societies, where one often take the easy way out by marrying into a life of indulgence and comfort, few pause to ponder, think and ultimately arrive at an understanding that we are happiest when helping others, and not ourselves. This is the reason why charity and donations never die out in the world. Our life force is sustained and reinvigorated through such altruistic endeavours, a fact realised and advocated by merely a philanthropic few – primarily the spiritually awakened. When we see ourselves as “service men and ladies” who work towards the well-being of mankind and the world, we naturally relate well to others. Everybody needs a little help sometimes – or a listening ear. We all live in the service of mankind, consistently endeavouring to make the world a better place.

The ability to establish, develop and strengthen relationships is the key to success in the corporate workplaces,  but its benefits extends to one’s social life as well. Some might consider individuals who possess this skill as someone with a high level of emotional quotient but I prefer a less scientific term and a more artistic expression  – a People Leader.


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