Improving Working Relationships

Developing and maintaining good working relationships can be difficult and sometimes frustrating. Often, we find ourselves wishing the other person was dead. Or is that just me?!

A lot of friction we feel at work is caused by the fact that we have to work with people we somehow… just don’t like. Well, we can’t change the “work with” bit, as this is our job, but we might be able to improve the “just don’t like” situation. If you find that you don’t get along with people at work and it makes being at work an unpleasant experience, imagine how different you would feel if your colleagues were replaced with people you really like and get on with spectacularly. Does that seem a more fun prospect?

If it does, it just may be that the answer to your troubles isn’t to look for another job. Perhaps a better solution is to improve your working relationships. If you can trick yourself into liking your workmates, and fool them into thinking you’re a good egg, then you might accidentally discover yourself enjoying your work.

Be warned though. Performing the following exercises will feel decidedly uncomfortable. But what the hell? If a goal is worth achieving, you’ll work hard for it.

See The Good In People, Develop Empathy

Developing empathy is a whole different ball game! There are other skills related to developing empathy that I’ve listed here just for convenience. Make no mistake, feeling real empathy can be difficult, especially if you have a real problem with the other person. Don’t worry about whether you can or can’t be empathetic, the important thing is to always try. Empathy is the ability to imagine how it must feel to be the other person. If your colleague is telling you about how they ran into someone else’s car, but you hate their guts, you might be tempted to let what they say drift in one ear and out the other. Don’t! You must try to imagine how that incident affected that person emotionally. Imagine how you would feel if it was you. Then, more importantly, imagine how the other person must have felt. If you can’t imagine, then ask more questions. Asking these questions will make you seem more interested in them (because you are) and that will help too.

The ability to empathise can help a great deal in “conflict situations”. Imagine a bossy colleague stomping over to your desk and having a rant at you because you messed up an order. Aside: if you don’t create orders that get sent out to customers, just go with me on this and imagine that you do. Ordinarily, you might immediately get your back up and give as much as you get to your colleague.

But that was before you learnt about empathy!

With your new found skills, you can listen and understand why your colleague is upset. She had promised something to the customer that never got delivered (for whatever reason), and because she cares about how your company looks, she now feels like she let the company down. She is letting out her frustration on you because she doesn’t know how else to articulate herself.

She hasn’t read this article.

Armed with this knowledge, you are able to see the quivering human inside that rigid, aggressive shell that seems to be attacking you, and you can make soothing, understanding noises. If you feel that this is going well, you might even make some apologetic sounding murmurs. The important thing is to try and understand where your colleague is coming from. Try and see things from their frame of reference. If you can perfect this skill, I guarantee that all your relations will become much easier.

Unlearning Bad Habits

One of the obstacles that stops us achieving a state of permanent empathy is the fact that we have been trained to do the opposite. We like to see fault, and even search for it. . Throughout childhood, we were given lots of critical input.

See The Good In People

Being able to see the good in people will help you to connect with them and see them as real, feeling human beings. Believe it or not, there are actually exercises that you can do to improve your ability to do this. Remember, it’s just practice.

The first exercise is simple, yet difficult at the same time. One by one, think about everyone in your office. When you think of someone, try and identify one good thing about them. Obviously, this is going to be hard! Don’t worry about how superficial the “one good thing” might if you are struggling. It could be “he’s got a nice bum” or anything else seemingly inconsequential. As long as you at least find something good to say about this person, you’re on the right track. After a few goes, you can stretch to compliments that run a bit deeper.

If you want to get good results quickly, practise this exercise every morning and go through as many people in your office as you can.

Active Listening

Active listening is so important, and yet most people don’t know what it is or how to do it. Let’s illustrate the difference between active listening and … not, with an example. Imagine that you are talking to a friend and telling them about a traumatic experience you had earlier that day. Imagine how you’d feel if you caught them looking at their watch, or they seemed disinterested, or just plain not listening. Imagine how you’d feel if, after you’d poured your heart out about how your crisis would affect your whole life, they completely ignored your distress and asked when they could get something to eat.

You’d probably think they didn’t care about you at all, and maybe you’d feel small too. Maybe you’d get angry.

Alternatively, imagine how you’d feel if they maintained eye contact with you while you related your traumatic incident to them. If they hung on your every word, that would be good! If they showed they understood what you felt, and even felt exactly what you did, that would be fantastic! What it is to be understood! They might even ask questions that you could use to think about the situations you hadn’t thought of before. But the main thing that makes you feel good is the fact that they are interested enough to listen, they understand and they care.

Let’s break down the things that make you feel like they are interested, they are listening, they understand and they care:

  • they’re interested – they maintain eye contact with you.
  • they’re listening – their responses match what you’re saying. If you tell them about how scared you were as that out of control snowplough sliced through your car – missing you by millimetres – ideally they will sport a shocked expression of disbelief. Maybe eyebrows will be raised if you told the story well.
  • they understand – if what they say is aligned with how you felt, then you know they understand. “F*ck me, you m*st have sh*t yourself! I would have cr*pped my knickers!” Something like that.
  • they care – for example, they could say “I am so glad that grizzly bear got distracted by that tin of tuna and you were able to escape” and that is good. “I don’t know what I’d do without you Susan. I feel like I’d die if I didn’t have you…” – hug – is also good.

All these things that make you feel like people are interested in you and care for you, they can be turned around and pointed at someone else to make them feel good too. You don’t have to go overboard and start hugging your work collegues, but if you bear in mind the following, it will definitely help your relationships at work:

  • maintain eye contact. I don’t mean intense staring! Just maintain an easy holding of the gaze, relaxed every now and then by an effortless glance elsewhere.
  • keep quiet while they talk. Don’t interrupt. Don’t interrupt. Don’t interrupt. There are times when you can interrupt when you have rapport and it doesn’t matter. Until you feel that rapport, don’t interrupt them!
  • ask questions. Asking questions demonstrates that you’re interested. “That John has a reputation for being aggressive in meetings. How was he in yours?”
  • show a willingness to help. “I’m really busy with the Peanut Butter Toothpaste project, but if you can think of any way I can help you, let me know”.