But, within that collection of relationships is a handful that can be particularly important. When you’re cultivating your work relationships, be sure to pay attention to these seven people we all need to make the workday go a little better.
The Work Spouse
“This is the person who you turn to in times of anxiety, the person who gets coffee with you, the person who tells you when you have food in your teeth,” says Marc Cendella, founder and CEO of job-search platform The Ladders.
Together, you swap advice, alleviate stress, and may even help each other get ahead, all while building trust for eight or more hours a day—which may be more time than you spend with your own spouse on any given day, he says. Roughly 70% of business professionals said they currently have a work spouse or have in the past, according to a recent Captivate Office Pulse survey.
This person has the power to get you on the calendar of the people you need for crucial meetings, sign-offs and other purposes, says Marc Prosser, cofounder of small business information site FitSmallBusiness.com. “This role used to be called a secretary or executive assistant. These days, that role sometimes is the office manager or chief of staff,” Prosser says. Watch who controls the calendars, formally or informally, of the people you need, and cultivate those relationships accordingly.
The Board Members
Your company has its own board members, and they’re probably good people to know if you get the chance. But we should be developing our own “board members,” says Christine Mann, president of executive coaching firm Mann Consulting. “As an executive coach, I always recommend developing and sustaining your own personal board to help you navigate the waters of both your work and real life,” she says.
At the office, these may include “the mentor,” who is the role model exemplifying where you want to go in your career, and can give you a “been there, done that” perspective, she says. Another might be “the coach,” who helps you come to solutions that work for you. They ask the right questions, they probe, challenge your thinking and act as sounding boards, she says. Your office-based “board members” are the people who help you with the wisdom and direction you need to advance in your career.
The Tech Guru
You may be tech-savvy, but this person “watched Revenge of the Nerds and [makes] you feel like you majored in basket-weaving for not knowing about the 192 series of IP addresses,” says Jim Jacobs, president of market research firm Focus Insite. When your computer crashes or you need to figure out how to access network files from your phone, this person always seems to find the fix. Be nice to your IT person—you are definitely going to need their help one day.
Another key player in the office is the “keeper of institutional knowledge,” Prosser says. This person may be at any level, from receptionist to CEO, but has been with the company long enough to know why things are the way they are. Because this person has been with the company for a number of years, they “remember when” and can give you history and context like no one else, he adds.
The insight the historian can give you can help short-circuit problems or add the value of experience to any situation. Often, you need to learn to ask the right questions to get information from the historian, who may not realize that others don’t have the same level of experience. Be respectful—whatever role they play, this person’s longevity-based insight can be a valuable contribution to the knowledge pool.
The Quiet One
Another font of useful information is the quiet one—the low-key, possibly introverted employee who knows the value of keeping the mouth shut and the eyes open, Cendella says. “Listening is a source of strength in any workplace, and the introvert’s ability to stop talking and listen to others is a valuable skill toward understanding colleagues and leaders—habits that are useful for any colleague to adopt,” he says. Counting this person in your personal work circle of confidants and contacts could yield valuable intel when you need it.
“You don’t have to be the mentee in the relationship to reap the benefits of a mentorship,” Cendella says. Take on your own protégé.
A protégé is someone who you see as having potential; who has demonstrated intellectual curiosity, asked for more responsibility, and thinks beyond the tasks they are given, Cendella says. These are the key characteristics of an employee who can be taken under a manager’s wing and groomed to grow in their career and their position in the company. In addition to giving you an opportunity to pay forward the mentorship you’ve received over the years, developing protégé relationships expands your network if you or they leave the company, he says.