We often talk about the level of professionalism expected in the administrative professional role.

When working with executives or business owners, the job goes far beyond checking off task lists - it’s about building a professional relationship that will get results for the individuals and the business.

But what does it mean to build a professional relationship? What does that look like in real life? Here’s our take:

Defining a professional relationship

There are a number of ways you might define a professional relationship. We’ve thought about this a lot and came up with something that we feel fits the administrative professional environment well.

The primary factor is that a professional relationship is trust-centered. The two parties respect each other as peers and understand, and work toward organizational goals. You could say that it is akin to a friendship, but not quite as personal.

There’s a synergy that happens when an administrative professional and their executive have a truly professional relationship. The AP is in tune with the needs of the executive and it works the other way around, too. Professional relationships also tend to operate along clear boundaries, unlike a typical friendship. For example, there will be things that you will or won’t do as part of the job.

What it means for an AP to build a relationship

We thought about some of the typical traits that go along with building a professional executive-AP relationship. First, it means strong communication skills, including active listening skills. There can’t be grey areas or communication gaps if you’re to build trust and an effective work routine. Professional communication means checking in regularly.

Second, there’s a level of respect. It’s not that APs should be subservient or always agree with the executive - it wouldn’t lead to a productive relationship if they did! Respect means being willing to listen to feedback and responding positively. It also means being willing to speak up or question if necessary. Respect has to be a two-way street with the executive willing to listen to feedback too.

Third, a professional relationship includes networking with coworkers and colleagues and having a good understanding of overall needs in the business. It means subscribing to shared values and ethical standards, which help to further the culture of the business.

Another important part of close professional relationships is the commitment to achieving organizational goals. APs work toward those and will be there to celebrate accomplishments with the executive.

Building this sort of relationship helps the AP to be more proactive. This is because, over time, they develop their intuition through getting to know the executive very well. It comes back to that synergistic relationship.

How to build stronger professional relationships

What can administrative professionals (and other professionals) do to build stronger professional relationships? We’ve got many ideas that we’ve seen working in action:

  1. Get to know people on a level beyond just their work identity. We’re all human! Getting to know the humanness in others and being willing to share your own may seem to attach some vulnerability for some people, but it helps to cement relationships. People grow when they can be genuine at work and see the humanity in one another.
  2. Focus on the goals and interests of the other person. This helps to build a good foundation of service, rather than self-interest.
  3. Be humble! It’s important to be willing to learn and listen to feedback. Even if the subject is something you think you’ve seen, heard, or done a million times, there might be something you can learn from someone else on it.
  4. Network among those who share the same values. This helps to build up your own knowledge and skills as well as give you people you could reach out to for ideas that will line up with the business you work in.
  5. Always offer truth, value, and integrity. This helps to build up your trustworthiness and nurture professional relationships.
  6. Receive feedback with grace. Look for the opportunities to learn and grow, and be willing to listen.
  7. Show respect toward others. Professionalism means being courteous, respecting people’s time, being ON time, using non-offensive language, and making the effort to really listen. People who always blurt what they’re thinking or miss any of those crucial elements don’t tend to win trust in professional environments.
  8. Be courteous with ALL people, no matter what position they hold. That means showing anyone who is subordinate to you the same level of respect that you’d show anyone else. Being supportive and empathetic in the professional world will get you farther than looking down on anyone. People know if you’re being patronizing.
  9. Show genuine interest in the achievements of others and be there to celebrate! Professional relationships are much stronger in supportive environments and often success spurs more success. There’s a saying about how a “rising tide lifts all boats” that can apply here, too. When the work environment celebrates and supports success, it often results in more people getting great results.
  10. Seek out the opinions or knowledge of others. People have different skills and experiences to bring to the table and proactively seeking their help can add to your own tool belt and help boost your professional relationships.
  11. Seek to provide value. A common trait of strong business relationships is a giving-first mentality. Sure, people build networks partly because they want to have knowledgeable resources to tap into, but there has to be some give and take. You don’t want to be known as the person who always wants something while delivering nothing in return, so enter relationships looking to provide value first. You’re more likely to have any of your later requests fulfilled if you’ve already delivered value.
  12. Build relationships with people who challenge you to think differently. It’s not that others should always be pushing back, but finding new perspectives is how you grow and add to your thought processes.
  13. Commit to putting the work into the relationship. In a sense, professional relationships can be similar to business relationships in that if you don’t put the work into them through active engagement and commitment, they can wither away. You might need to make extra effort to set aside time to check-in, but it’s worth doing so.
  14. Know your boundaries. Professional relationships are very much about a mutual respect. If you want to foster this and avoid a one-sided situation, it’s important to define your own boundaries and stick to them. For example, if you’re not contracted to work weekends, and keep them sacred as family time, stick to that boundary if you suddenly find someone expecting you to respond to emails on a Saturday or pick up calls on Sunday evening. Working professionally with someone else does not mean allowing them to bulldoze your boundaries!

Final thoughts

Professional relationships are built on trust and mutual respect. It’s important for administrative professionals to master professional relationship-building because it will allow you to grow and to work more efficiently with your executive.

The “mutual” aspect of professional relationships can’t be overstated. There’s a certain give and take - it can’t be a one-sided thing. At the same time, administrative professionals are there to deliver value, but not to be unquestioning or subservient. A good relationship means you are comfortable speaking up and the other person is comfortable listening.

Worxbee hires experienced, professional administrative professionals and matches them with great clients. Talk to us about how we can help you.