You probably spend half your life at work. The relationships you have there can make or break your day.
Good relationships can make work easier and more fun, while bad ones can make you reach for the tissue box or the antacids.
And as an added bonus, they can affect your future. If someone works well with you, they will speak well of you when you are ready for your next level job.
But a bad relationship at work can make your days stressful. If you have rocky relationships with past or present colleagues, here are four simple strategies you can take to improve your interactions.
Communicate with Your Voice Instead of Text
The cause of many misunderstandings is misinterpretation. It is so easy to misinterpret the written word of emails or text messages.
What is meant to sound like a straightforward response can come across as abrupt or cold. Some people may look for pleasantries first in an email.
Conversely, people who prefer short communications may skim over long messages and miss the original point of an email message.
One strategy for clear communication and good work relationships is to speak more by phone or in person. Don’t just rely on email.
If you need more than three sentences to explain something or respond to someone, consider having a conversation first. Not only will it avoid misinterpretation, but it will develop your work relationships in a more personal way.
Focus on What’s Most Important to Others First
It is human nature to see things from your own perspective. One proven best practice in communication is to understand what is most important to your colleagues first.
The late Stephen R. Covey, author of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, advised “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
People often open up when they feel that their perspectives are being heard and taken into account. And, people often get angry if they feel they are being ignored.
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”Stephen R. Covey
Don’t Follow the Golden Rule
While the Golden Rule of treating others as you wish to be treated is an often-quoted piece of life advice, it only works if your co-workers and colleagues like to be treated in the same way as you do.
People have different preferences. You may have one co-worker that appreciates it if you sort her mail, while another sees it as intrusive.
To avoid misunderstandings, talk with colleagues and learn their preferences for communication and information sharing.
Understand your coworkers’ personalities and interact with them in the best possible way for them.
Address the Elephant in the Room
If you are having a problem with a colleague, timing is everything in working it out.
If something makes you mad and you react too quickly, you or your colleague may say something you regret. If you are angry, don’t write that email. Wait until you’ve cooled down and have some perspective.
On the other hand, if you let a situation fester it can interfere with your work or cause resentment.
If you need help addressing a situation, get advice from a third party. Many employers have confidential employee assistance programs that can provide advice and strategy in these situations.
Resolve for Yourself What Can’t be Fixed
Regardless of what steps you take to mend a work relationship, you can’t do it alone. If the other person you want to improve communication with is not open to addressing the issues, you may not be able to improve the situation despite your best efforts.
In this case identify what you can live with and what you cannot.
If your troubled relationship is with a current or former supervisor and you need to move on, find out how your employer handles reference checks.
Some employers have policies that prohibit employees from serving as references, while others do not. As you apply for new positions, get a sense of what a reference may say before you share this information with a potential new employer.
Keep Moving Forward
Over the course of your career, you will encounter co-workers that are easy to work with and others that are more challenging.
These strategies can help you navigate challenging situations, build good working relationships and improve existing ones. You can learn from each experience too. Learn more about yourself as well as how to work best with others.
As Tom Brokaw once said in a commencement speech:
“Real life is junior high. The world…is filled with junior high adolescent pettiness, pubescent rivalries, the insecurities of 13-year-olds…Your feelings will be hurt for some trivial slight…You can change that. In your pursuit of your passions, always be young. In your relationship with others, always be grown-up. Set a standard, and stay faithful to it.”
Regardless of whether you are looking for a new job or want to keep your current one, it is important to build and maintain good working relationships with colleagues.
Just as communication is an essential ingredient for success in any personal relationship, positive interactions decrease stress and increase productivity and morale.