Work It at Work

Relationships with your co-workers demand a strong sense of balance. In many ways, they are less flexible than friendships and romances. When something isn’t working, walking away isn’t always a valid option, and emotional outbursts are hardly advisable. In fact, your relationships with your boss, co-workers and subordinates are probably most like those with your family members – you may not always get along, but you can’t really avoid them. And just like in the world outside the workplace, it’s usually your communication style that makes the difference between putting up with the people you work around versus building relationships that work for you.

Respect authority
Okay, so you need to respect your boss, but remember to stick to your guns. When your boss disagrees with you, what they say is generally what goes – even if it’s wrong. If you’re in a position to modestly point out the virtues of doing things your way, do so, but that doesn’t mean you have to do a 180 if the boss says “no.” When they turn the schedule upside down, or suggest a potentially disastrous rewrite to that memo, calmly assent to the changes without making an about-face on your own opinion.

That way, you manage to avoid playing the “yes-man or yes-ma’am” game. And if for some reason your boss’s way wasn’t the best way, you’re not stuck backing a plan you weren’t really behind. Communication choices are also essential. When the boss issues a questionable directive, avoid responses like “Okay, but this will never work” and “You’re right. That’s a much better plan that mine.” Instead, try responses that are agreeable, but not necessarily in agreement like, “Alright, we can try that” or “That’s another way to go.”

Treat coworkers with respect
You can get along with others and still respect your own authority. Speak to your subordinates as you would any other coworker, but expect cooperation. Requests are almost always more effective than demands. You’d be surprised how much more respect “please” and “thank you” attracts versus, “Do I have to do everything?” Abusing authority sends the message that you don’t actually have it – or are uncomfortable managing it. Also, displays of temper are very counter-productive.

People are more productive, and generally more cooperative, when treated with respect. They are also more comfortable communicating their ideas, which may prove valuable to you in the long run. On the other hand, if you’re reasonable and courteously worded requests are disregarded, don’t let it slide. Make sure to have a discussion with your subordinate – while maintaining courtesy – about their lack of cooperation or insubordination the first time it occurs. Try asking what you can do to facilitate the task, or why they are having a difficult time. This way you maintain authority without becoming unnecessarily argumentative. You’ve also managed to put the ball in their court, so that further problems can merit stronger action.

Be friendly and get back to work
In the workplace, your coworkers probably comprise the majority of your human contact. Friendships will naturally develop and bleed into your social life, which is healthy. Having appropriate personal, as well as professional, relationships at work can make work both more productive and more enjoyable. However, it is important that the roles you play after hours remain outside of work. You may be able to gush for hours over drinks, but avoid bringing your personal lives back into the office.

And as comfortable as you are letting loose sometimes, don’t forget to respect boundaries once you re-don your professional roles. As long as your social circle can survive the fluctuations between casual and work environments, it can enrich your work, as well as your life. Also, remember that it’s a lot easier to censor information before you share it than after. As tempting as it can be to unload your grievances about the establishment with your coworkers, your vent session may be more appropriately (and confidentially) shared with your non-work friends.

Of course, at some point or another most of us will struggle with coworkers with whom we are less than friendly. Again, you probably don’t have the luxury of avoiding them, so try to view them as a challenge to your professionalism. Imagine your coworkers as utilities with strengths and weaknesses you must navigate. A person may be a dreadful multitasker, but perhaps that is offset by their attention to detail. Or maybe they have problems expressing requests respectfully, but can always be counted on to manage a difficult customer. It can be challenging, but concentrating on their strengths and weaknesses, rather than your personal differences, can help you maintain the distance you need for your professional relationships to thrive.

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