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The building blocks for strong relationships at work and home

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

Plunging oil prices have created an economic downturn in Alberta and across Canada, leading to tens of thousands of layoffs, and increased economic and emotional strain on workers and their families. At the extreme end of this continuum: Alberta's suicide rate increased by 30 per cent and requests for counselling increased by 80 per cent in 2015, according to a CBC report.

Through my work as an executive and leadership coach, I've had many heartfelt conversations with Alberta's executives about who to let go and who to keep. Key factors considered are job performance and the ability to work positively and collaboratively with others. Decades of research confirm that successful people not only work hard; they also have strong professional and personal relationships that improve their reputation, network, and resilience in the face of work stress or unemployment.

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But how does one build relationships for career and personal success? Through my 20 years of work and research on successful leaders, teams and couples, I have identified five key building blocks for developing strong relationships in the boardroom and the family room: Safety, Purpose, Structure, Camaraderie, and Repair.

Safety is the foundation for every relationship, especially during change. Safety and trust are created when conversations are open, honest and constructive. We only share the truth when we believe we have each other's backs. We feel unsafe when we are disconnected or wary of each other's motives, which results in withholding of information, ideas and effort. At work, ask your boss and colleagues what is important to them and discuss how you can support each other's goals and objectives. Further, ensure that you communicate your achievements; don't assume that your work will speak for itself. At home, talk with your family about each other's concerns and needs – have their backs, too. If you are laid off, they will become your primary support system. Invest wisely in making these relationships safe; your well-being depends upon it.

Purpose is what brings meaning to relationships. Successful relationships have a clear and compelling mutual purpose that benefits all. At work, ensure that you and your colleagues are aligned with each other's and the organization's goals. In this economy, priorities change quickly, so check in regularly to ensure you are moving in the right direction. At home, discuss the values and goals each of you has. It is easy to become fearful and see each other on opposite sides when we are stressed. Agree and align on a common purpose that keeps you working together, even if your employment or financial situation changes.

Structure is the scaffolding that supports high-performing relationships. Richard Hackman, a long-time team researcher, said 60 per cent of team success is related to structure so we can't afford to ignore this important design element of relationships. Structure includes the resources (information, time, money), clarity of roles and responsibilities, and working agreements or norms that you have for working and living together effectively. At work, pro-actively ask your boss how your role might need to change to meet shifting priorities and resources. At home, discuss what each person needs if your demands at work increase or you get laid off. Schedule regular conversations to discuss a structure that will help everyone navigate any potential changes.

Camaraderie is a result of the respect, trust, and friendship you build with others. It is easier for a boss to lay off someone when they or their colleagues have little positive connection with the person. Connecting with others at work and home is as simple as asking what is going on for them and giving your sincere, undivided attention on a regular basis. If a layoff happens, strong camaraderie will ensure a more stable and supportive home life and greater likelihood that your professional contacts will assist your job search.

Repairing relationship accidents is even more critical when people are feeling unsettled and nervous about change. This is not the time to avoid people that you have had a disagreement or conflict with. Apologize, acknowledge your role in issues, and/or make amends when you encounter one of the inevitable misunderstandings or problems that happen as we work and live with others.

Positive relationships are the key to success, especially in today's challenging economy. Enhance your career options and personal resilience by purposefully building and investing in your work and home relationships.

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Dr. Jacqueline Peters coaches executives, teams, and leaders to achieve better results. She is the author of several articles and books on team and relationship success, including High Performance Relationships: The Heart and Science behind Success at Work and Home.

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