Live Chat

Struggling to Get Along? 5 Strategies to Improve Work Relationships

February 20, 2023

By: Wendy Sheaffer

It’s impossible not to think of great romances in February, the month dedicated to celebrating relationships. Jack and Rose…he made the ultimate sacrifice for true love (even though there was enough room on that enormous door); or Danny and Sandy…hopelessly devoted to one another before, quite literally, flying off in a 1948 Ford Deluxe convertible, as all couples should; and then there’s Westley and Buttercup… storming castles and cheating death…inconceivable!

What did you do to celebrate your relationship on Valentine’s Day?

Was it a sappy card, flowers, chocolate, or maybe reservations at the trendy new gastronomical experience? Those are great strategies for romantic relationships, and certainly less drastic than choosing who gets to avoid hypothermia, but what does it take to build or improve our work relationships?

I once had a male colleague give me flowers the day after we had a disagreement about a project. It felt…awkward. I mean it was sweet, sure, but crossing boundaries could quickly land both parties in HR. The next thing you know, everyone is sitting in an anti-harassment training.

That’s why strategy #1 is…

Know the difference between personal relationships and work relationships.

The relationships we form at work are important ones. Whether you work in an office or virtually, you likely spend a lot of time interacting with your colleagues and managers, so you want those interactions to be as smooth and productive as possible. At least I hope you do!

While many of us might form a close work friendship or two that extends beyond the office, work relationships shouldn’t cross boundaries. Of course, we live in the real world, so blurred lines exist. For work friendships that extend outside the office, it’s a good idea for both parties to regularly check themselves to maintain professionalism.

For example, talk about your strategy for those times when you may not agree with each other about something at work. Set appropriate boundaries. Like your parents always used to tell you, true friends like you for who you are, not for what you can do for them. A friendly colleague should not expect you to blindly agree with them, share information that you shouldn’t, or gossip negatively about others. Run from toxic relationships, which is really just great advice for all aspects of your life. 

Strategy #2: Be caring and empathetic.

Yes, work relationships are professional, not personal, but they shouldn’t be cold and devoid of all emotion. There just shouldn’t be an intense outpouring of personal thoughts and emotions. Don’t make it too heavy. But do be empathetic and caring. Make an effort to get to know people on a casually personal level. It’s okay to ask personal questions, just not deeply personal questions.

Need some help with that? Here are some examples:

  • It’s A-okay to ask how someone’s child did in the soccer game on Saturday. It’s not okay to ask how they get along with their spouse.
  • It’s A-okay to ask about someone’s vacation. It’s not okay to ask how they were able to afford it.
  • It’s A-okay to ask about someone’s hobbies and interests. It’s not okay to ask about their religious or political beliefs.

It’s never okay to ask a coworker to help you identify a rash.

Strategy #3: Know your coworkers’ communication style and workplace preferences.

We all have a variety of personality traits that define our inherent strengths, challenges, and workplace preferences. With Omnia’s behavioral assessment, everyone fits into one of 4 broad categories — the Social and Analytical Drivers and the Social and Analytical Supporters — and further into 17 distinct personality groups. Understanding the unique personalities of your coworkers so you can communicate with each person in a way that works for them is a great way to improve work relationships. Knowing a colleague’s underlying motivators and communication style will help you avoid misunderstandings and unnecessary conflict.

For example, if you are a fast-paced, big-picture person who only hits the highlights when talking with others, but you’re talking to a methodical, detailed coworker, be sure to give more data than you normally would. Take some time to explain yourself and provide context.

If your company uses Omnia’s behavioral assessment for hiring or employee development, the information can be useful for everyone. We have personal development reports written to and for the employee as a way to increase self-awareness and awareness of others. It’s information you can use to nurture work relationships.

Strategy #4: Ask questions to understand the situation from the other person’s point of view.

As discussed above, we are all different, from our personality types to our deeply held values and beliefs. A workplace culture is made up of dynamic, complex people, so don’t assume that you know what a teammate is thinking about a project or task at work. Actively seek to understand the other person’s point of view. Not only will it improve the work relationship, but it could also make the project better. Be open and listen; it’s the exchange of information, thoughts, and ideas that could take your project from done to done spectacularly.

Strategy #5: Know your stuff and do your job.

No one wants to have a relationship with a slacker who is not pulling their own weight, no matter how nice that person might be otherwise. Work relationships, like all other relationships, are based on trust, teamwork, and getting stuff done. We all want to hit our goals and succeed, so nothing will spoil a work relationship faster than someone who is not doing their fair share. It’s like how you feel when a member of your family walks by that full trash can or tosses their clothes outside of the hamper.

Work relationships are an important part of our lives and can mean the difference between being engaged and productive at work or feeling a sense of dread at the thought of that next meeting. Use these 5 strategies to make work relationships work!

Wendy Sheaffer

Wendy is the former Chief Product Officer of The Omnia Group. She is a subject matter expert in behavioral assessments and in using Omnia’s 8 columns as a tool to make more-informed hiring and development decisions and effectively engage staff. For more information, email or call 800.525.7117.

Related Posts

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram