Building Effective Relationships in the Research Environment

This is a guest post written by Kate Tapper, founder of

On almost every course I run there is a moment where someone gasps wide-eyed at something one of the other particpants in the room says or does….”YOU!” they exclaim…”I work with a whole team of people just like YOU!”.  It might be the way they put some lego together, or how they described their approach to deadlines.

These ‘ah-ha’ moments are the thing I love best about my work.  When people start to see the behaviour that they had previously viewed as ‘difficult’ as simply ‘different’, they can shift their perspective and change their working relationships.

On the whole, other people are not trying to annoy you on purpose!  Nor are your esteemed colleagues incompetent, they are usually trying to get things done the best (or only) way they know how to.  This might be very different to the way you like to work and it may be utterly opaque as to why they do it that way.


You already have a huge asset that can used to improve working relationships; your curious mind. I’ll bet the reason you are in research to start with is that you are curious.  If you can seek to understand colleagues with the same curiosity that you approach your research with, you are half way there.

Think about it.  Do you begin with the raw data of how someone behaves and ask yourself why? Or, do you leap to conclusions? What labels does your categorising mind like to issue? Narcissist! Control-freak! Dreamer! Flaky! Selfish! Can you take a step back and be more questioning about why a person behaves the way they do? Understanding more about personality differences can help you to achieve this mindset.


In tandem with curiosity, I encourage researchers to bring compassion to their working relationships too.  Compassion for yourself, which means that you take care of your own needs and compassion for others, which means seeking to understand their needs. Attending to your own needs stops you from becoming a doormat and seeking to understand others’ needs engenders the respect that the best collaborations are built on.


It takes courage to look at yourself and to question what you could do differently to improve working relationships. It takes courage to try out new ways of working with people. But I am endlessly inspired by the brave transformations that I see researchers make. The world’s greatest challenges can only be solved by the meeting of the world’s greatest minds. And yes, that includes yours.

You already carry part of the solution… now if your research relationships were trusting, respectful, compassionate and courageous… how much more could you achieve?

Kate will be facilitating workshops in emotional intelligence and personality differences in research at Kings in 2018.