How to navigate difficult coworker relationships
Conflict is inevitable, especially when people work closely together in the workplace. The cool thing is, some conflict in the workplace can be beneficial. Understanding how to navigate what seems like a negative work relationship gives you the opportunity to learn how to handle tough situations.
We’ll help walk you through steps to a healthy, effective working relationship with co-workers who simply operate differently than you do.
1. Examine yourself first.
Many times, in difficult situations, all parties need to take a step back and observe a difficult situation from a wider lens to see what’s really going on. This gives you the opportunity to reframe the issue and look at it from a different perspective. You cannot change a co-worker’s personality as it affects the situation at hand, but you do have the power to change yourself. The easiest way to give a difficult work relationship a boost is to approach the situation in a positive way.
2. Put yourself in their shoes.
Let’s say you’ve tried to approach the situation with a positive perspective and there’s still some tension between you and your teammate. Don’t jump to conclusions just yet. Do you know everything that’s going on in this person’s life? Is it possible that you just interacted with them on an off day?
We’re all human. Your coworker has a whole life outside of their career, just like you do. You likely have no idea what they’re struggling with outside their 9 to 5. Try and empathize with them. You may be surprised what you learn after you make an effort to get to know them better.
3. Ask questions (and listen to the response).
There’s no better way to get to know a coworker than to just simply talk to them. Maybe you don’t understand why they did a task the way they did, or said something they said. Well, ask them! It really is that simple. Let them know you genuinely intend to listen to what they have to say.
Think of how you would want someone to approach you about something at work, and reach out to your coworker exactly the same way. But don’t stop there—remember that everyone is different. If they don’t respond the way you expect them to, use that as a learning opportunity and edit your communication accordingly.
4. Be honest, but kind.
A lot of strained work relationships actually start with some kind of miscommunication. Maybe the person you have a strained relationship with wasn’t trained by the same person you were, so they do things a little bit differently. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing it wrong, but it can still cause issues.
When your work is being compromised by the way someone else chooses to do something, address it, and try to find common ground. You might be amazed at the solutions you come up with when you use a little candor to challenge directly!
5. Seek common ground.
If you’ve put forth all the effort you can to create a positive working relationship and things still feel a little off, you may need a third party mediator (like your supervisor) to help you find respectful, effective ways to work together. No relationship is perfect, and expecting it to be is setting yourself up for failure. You don’t need to be best friends with everyone you work with, but you do need to create space for both of your personalities and work habits to coexist.
Working at a company with a bunch of people who are exactly the same is boring. Understand that there’s room for everyone, and learning to work together with someone you don’t necessarily get along with is a strength that will serve you well in your career, personal life, and beyond!
- Gina Richard