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Let’s talk: Co-workers



Featured | Let's Talk

By Momoko Metham

Negative co-worker relationships can have detrimental impacts in and beyond the office if left unresolved.

These toxic relationships can take a toll on a co-worker’s productivity, safety and health, ultimately impacting the business’ performance as well as your own.

It can feel challenging to navigate and resolve negative co-worker relationships, especially when your co-worker may not be aware of any animosity you may feel towards them, or chooses to ignore your unhealthy relationship.

However, it’s ultimately necessary to address such issues in order to feel comfortable with your interactions, maintain job satisfaction and build rapport with those you may work with every day.

Today, we’re asking the experts, “how do you deal with negative co-worker relationships?”


Jen Jackson, CEO of Everyday Massive and Co-author of How to Speak Human 

Whenever you bring together a group of people, especially the diverse team found in many large organisations, it’s inevitable there’ll be differences in opinion that lead to tension, and if left unresolved, negative relationships.

As well as keeping communication open, at Everyday Massive we have three approaches to diffusing these scenarios.

Embrace curiosity

Tension can come down to the simplest misunderstanding due to differences in interpretation. When we’re curious about others and seek to understand their perspectives, it’s easier to bridge these divides.

Separate your tasks

If curiosity and empathy doesn’t resolve the situation, then we need to let it go. In ‘Courage to Be Disliked’, the authors advocate against owning other people’s ‘tasks’. If the other person isn’t interested in repairing the relationship, it’s not our responsibility to fix it.

Manage your own energy

If the relationship isn’t repaired, but we still need to work together, then we need to manage our energy. This means being clear about our needs and setting boundaries through non-negotiables.

David Pich, CEO of the Institute of Managers and Leaders Australia and News Zealand (IML ANZ), Author of Leading Well

There’s no doubt toxic workplace relationships take a toll on productivity, safety and health in and beyond the office, but overcoming these tensions is challenging when a co-worker’s conflict with you seems personal.

The first step is to take a position of empathy and respect. Start an open and honest conversation with them about your relationship and how it impacts you, giving constructive feedback and inviting them to do the same. Sometimes, the root of these conflicts can be organisational; bad leadership, poor culture and high stress can cause co-workers to neglect basic virtues.

Talking to your boss or to HR about the situation can help relieve organisational factors that may impact their behaviour. Above all, remember to be the bigger person. By continuing to treat them kindly and leading by example, you place the onus on them to reciprocate your behaviour and set the standard for others overcoming difficult relationships.

Angus Dorney, Co-CEO at Kablamo

Particularly if you’re at management level, look at your staff as colleagues, not ‘human resources’. Thinking of people as resources to be managed is counterproductive. Don’t have a rigid performance management framework. Don’t do mandatory breakfasts or culture-boosting posters. The traditional idea is building a beautiful office where you have employees who never want to leave from sunrise to, well, sunrise again – that’s old fashioned. Instead, work with a more flexible approach to geographic placement. When you attract the best, you trust and you adapt. And when you’re thinking about building human, rather than transactional relationships, you start to get materially better outcomes.

Emma Lo Russo, CEO and co-founder of Digivizer

You spend more time with the people you work with than anyone else. It is so important to get this right. Find people who are smarter, more talented, great team players and able to get things done, and achieve more than you possibly could yourself. Then get out of their way. I see the role of leader as being to ensure the sum of your people should be greater than those of each individual person. If you can inspire them to achieve the impossible (or at least to have a damn good crack at it), that is where growth and magic happens.

Read more about how negative co-worker relationships can affect work culture here.

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