The standard means by which we engage at work (close-quarter offices, 40 hour work weeks, stressful deadlines and competitiveness for promotions and pay rises) often means that trying to cultivate positive relationships or finding a quick and peaceful resolution to a negative one is difficult.
Many of us will have experienced the impact of a negative relationship at some stage in our lives. Perhaps with a family member, friend, or partner. Hopefully, the experience was short-lived, worked through and learned from. It may even have solidified your relationship with the other person for further personal growth on both sides.
In the workplace, however, this process can be much trickier to navigate.
I’ve had a couple of experiences at work with people who I just did not connect with. There was no real reason for this other than a distinct difference in personality traits and approaches to our work.
I live by the rule that if I don’t get along with someone, I just leave them be. Basically, I only engage with them minimally when I really have to. On one occasion, a colleague who I didn’t get along with just didn’t take the hint. She would repeatedly insert herself into my workday to make snidey comments, question my work, and brag about herself. With no way to remove myself from our shared office, I was going home and letting out all my bottled up frustration at my partner.
Neither ended up being fun environments to be in.
The Impact of Poor Work Relationships
The impact of negative and poorly managed relationships is well documented, and the same applies to the workplace.
Stressful relationships in one area of our lives can have roll-on effects in other areas. Individual feelings of low mood, depression, anxiety and depleted confidence. In the workplace, this can be heightened to have a wider impact on the overall mission and values of the organization. If teams cannot respect each other and pull together, how are they to go about achieving projects and core goals?
While our main objective at work may not be to build deeply personal relationships with our colleagues (although it’s nice when strong friendships blossom as a result of our work), these are still people we have to share space, ideas, deadlines, knowledge and skills with. Getting along positively and proactively is undoubtedly something to strive towards in the office.
With that in mind, how then do we cultivate more positive relationships and turn around those that may have started to turn sour at work?
Accept Everyone is Different
As the saying goes, we can choose our friends, but we can’t choose our family. Neither can we choose our work family.
As a young professional starting out, I was always frustrated by the ways my colleagues operated. I couldn’t understand their disorganization or (what seemed to me) illogical ways of approaching team projects. Then I realized I was holding my colleagues up to the same impossibly high standards I hold myself to. This was never going to work if I wanted to cultivate positive relationships with them.
By accepting that everyone is indeed different and has a different way of approaching work, I built better common ground with my colleagues. I had to acknowledge that not everyone works the way I do. This allowed me to ask more questions about why they would approach work in a certain way and opened up a channel of communication so that we could work out the best way to do it together that honored our individual approaches.
Focus on Your Colleague’s Strengths
When we’re frustrated with someone in the workplace, we’ll often take the easy path of labeling them as less committed, less skilled, or less capable than us. In reality, when someone isn’t understanding something we’re asking from them or is struggling to get a task right, it could be our own attitude that’s adding towards the outcome. This, in turn, could be generating the negative cycle of a working relationship.
When we want to create positive change, we also need to change. Think about how you approach the individual. How you word things and the questions you ask? What could be changed from your end to improve the outcome?
Everyone has something to offer at work. Asking the right questions allows your colleagues the chance to share what they’re good at. It means you can all work towards making sure everyone acts on their own strengths for the benefit of the team. When people feel good about the work they’re doing, and their contribution to it, there’s often less friction and less reactive behaviors that cultivate negative relationships.
Make Use of Personal Affirmations
This is a tricky one to come back to, especially when we feel we’ve been wronged, manipulated or let down. But it could help prevent you from indulging in reactive behaviors that perpetuate negative relationships.
This doesn’t mean to say that you should ‘suck up’ to those who aren’t being the most professional in the workplace. But by turning your focus to the characteristics of the individual that you really do appreciate and respect, you might be able to turn toxic thoughts to something more positive.
Everyone is Fighting a Battle
Coming back to point number one, it’s also worth reminding yourself that everyone is a multitude. We have many different things going on in our lives at any one time. And many of these things aren’t shared — especially in the workplace.
If a colleague is suddenly starting to be cold towards you or others, their behavior has turned into a negative spin, or they’re acting out in the workplace, it’s worth remembering that there might be something going on here that you know nothing about.
You might feel comfortable reaching out and offering a coffee and a non-judgemental listening ear. Many workplaces offer free, confidential counseling services. It might be worth mentioning to your boss or HR representative it could be time for an all-staff reminder of this.
Besides that, make sure you broach negative relationships from a space of empathy. It could be the best way to make sure you don’t get sucked into a toxic back and forth.
You Do You
Above all else, remember that no one can make you feel inferior or negative about yourself, without your consent. If there are characters in your workplace who seem bent on a negative relationship and representation of you, it’s essential not to take that on board as your own idea of yourself.
The only person you are in competition is yourself. Your focus need only be on making sure you deliver your best work, with integrity and honesty. Don’t let others suck you into their drama and put a hinder on your own performance because they’ve failed to see the difference between being competitive within their own professional lane and competitive with others for the sake of competition.
Are you going to get along with every person you meet? Short answer: No.
But you can cultivate a mindset that allows you to see some good in everyone you meet, and build the robust emotional resilience required to make sure that those who do rub you the wrong way don’t leave a lasting aura of negativity in your life.
To cultivate positive relationships with coworkers, always remember: You can’t change others, but you can change how you handle them.