Relationships at work

We all have to interact with others at some point. And most of us have to on a daily basis. Whilst working with others can be satisfying, motivating and inspiring, it can also present challenges. Relationships, in all their glory, rarely remain consistent, there are usually highs and lows. ACAS states that conflict or relationship breakdown at work is one of the main reasons for staff absence. Getting people to accept differences and talk is a first step. I work with clients to facilitate these conversations, as a mediator, where having an impartial third party encourages better behaviour and more open minded discourse.

If you’d like to discuss mediation or facilitated conversations, email me,

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How do you handle a difficult relationship at work?

Do you approach with a openness and a keen desire to reach a good outcome for both of you? Or do you retreat and try to avoid them? Do you let the narrative in your head work overtime and become very stressed and anxious? Or do you accept this is part of life and get on with it? It might depend on how busy you are, who they are, what their role is, in fact there are so many variables when it comes to getting on (or not) with others.

Why is it important to cultivate good relationships?

Why put the work in? Surely if they want to work with you it’ll be easy? On a good day, perhaps, but if you’re in a stressful environment, or you or they have some difficulties going on outside of work (the unseen causes of stress that we tend to forget about), or there’s an issue that you care about and they just aren’t seeing it your way … What I’m saying is that there are so many factors that can rock the boat meaning that putting some ground work in will pay off. You’ll both trust each other to respect the other’s opinion, you’ll have some understanding or insight into what’s going on for them and so will see things from their perspective. Cultivating a good foundation is vital and so worth the effort.

How do I cultivate a good relationship?

I’d prioritise listening. If someone takes the time to listen and actually hear what you’re saying, you’re almost certainly going to start trusting them. The added bonus is that you’ll learn some stuff about them too and so will get an insight into what drives them and how they see the world. Everyone wants to feel heard and sadly few do. So you’ll already be standing out as a good colleague. Try it! You can read more and see a short film about listening here.

How to best communicate?

Frequently. Keeping up a consistent level of communication is key. Just turning up in their inbox or at their desk when you need something isn’t the best way. If you keep communicating, you’ll know how things are, if things are getting difficult. When two people rarely see each other and one says something that winds the other up, a whole big negative story starts building. If they regularly see or speak to you, they’ll realise it was a one off and remember you actually mean well.

Treat people with respect always

Nobody can argue with that. This doesn’t mean you can’t sometimes ask them to do something differently or say you aren’t happy with something they’ve done. But it does mean that you do it in an open and respectful way. Never speak behind their back. Never put them down. Compliment where due and thank and appreciate them when they do something for you or the team. You might think this sounds obvious, but these things are the first to disappear when we get stressed or overwhelmed.

It’s not all about you

Relationships are two way. Both parties get something out of it. If it’s precariously balanced in your favour, with everything being about you, what you need, doing things the way you want them done always, then the other party will react in a variety of ways. They might withdraw and avoid you. They might get angry and frustrated and make the relationship difficult. The quality of their work might reduce as they think “oh, what’s the point!”. They might leave. Whatever you put into something, you’re likely to get out, so put some work into it and find out what they need too.

How do you get along with difficult people?

Good question. And there are so many more questions around this. Your definition of difficult will be different to others’. The label ‘difficult’ will already get you behaving in a certain way, with the assumption that that’s how they are. Keep an open mind and consider that perhaps they’re not difficult. Maybe they just don’t agree with everything you say. Or maybe they have a different communication style. Might sound scary, but it’s worth sitting down and asking them how you can both best communicate. They might like direct and to the point, you might like extreme politeness and nuance. Talk about it. If the person is generally easy to get along with but is coming across as more difficult, maybe they’ve got some issues at home or in their lives that are troubling them. Ask them if everything’s ok and let them talk. Avoiding the issue can be OK as things might blow over, but it can mean misunderstandings happen and it becomes a challenge to work with them. So worth mentioning the elephant in the room. Not always easy, I know.

We can’t change others but we can change how we choose to respond

Don’t take things personally. It’s not worth it. So often other people are awkward or difficult because there’s something going on for them. Ask yourself if there’s a more useful reaction. Letting their behaviour affect you is going to be detrimental to you. Remind yourself what’s important for you – whether it’s a project that you’re working on or building relationships with others, and get on with it. Shift the focus from your frustration with them. Speak to them with respect and firmness. Even if this means acting for a bit. You might find their behaviour shifts in response to yours.

Does my behaviour affect others?

Of course. We are human. We read other people’s energy and if they are coming across as impatient, frustrated, we will react to it. If the other person is respectful and hones, there is a chance we will improve our behaviour. So if things aren’t going well with another, consider how your behaviour is affecting the dynamic.

Try coaching to change your approach

Speaking to another person who is non judgmental and impartial helps. Working out how to not take things personal, reflect on our own behaviour and try out new techniques can help to improve relationships and reduce the stress around misunderstandings.

A facilitated meeting or mediation can help

If you are finding your working relationship with another is becoming unworkable or causing a lot of stress, in the first instance, it’s wise to inform your HR business partner. They can often suggest ways of approaching the situation. If this doesn’t work, they may suggest mediation or a facilitated meeting where you can air your frustrations constructively and find a way to agree how to better work together.

I have worked with clients who are experiencing challenging relationships and enabled more constructive conversations where both parties agree to move on in a more positive way. Having a non judgmental, impartial person in the room to facilitate conversations can really help.

Get in touch if you’d like to discuss.