There’s a good chance that all of us have worked with people we didn’t necessarily consider “our people.” Sometimes you work for certain organizations or hold a job with people that you wouldn’t be around normally, but because of the circumstances, you are working closely with frequently. Working with someone who you don’t get along with can be difficult. Sometimes it’s not even that you don’t get along, but you just have different leadership styles, and that alone makes working with that person harder. However, situations where you are working with someone different from you or who you don’t like working with (note: the two are different, so you need to decide which is the problem, i.e. leadership style or personality). Today I want to share some methods of turning an unhappy working relationship into a healthy one. Truth be told, the people we work with are the people we see most often, so we should do everything in our power to make those relationships as strong and healthy as possible.
First, be kind. I know, I know. This seems obvious. You’re probably rolling your eyes thinking, “well, duh. Don’t you have useful advice?” However, I think an unhappy working situation can really wear a person down, and it becomes less and less easy to be kind and positive to co-workers. Your internal unhappiness starts to be projected outward. Even if you believe you’re handling the situation well, people are more intuitive than we think and they likely know, or at least feel, your discomfort or annoyance with the situation.
Second, do not discuss your disgruntled situation with other co-workers. I will admit, I made this mistake in college. I was really unhappy in a working relationship and at first, I kept all my emotions about the situation bottled up, then I started making comments to my other co-workers about how I was feeling. I told one co-worker just how unhappy I was (I was thinking of quitting or not returning the following year). While people listened, I know I was putting them in an uncomfortable position: they worked with both of us and some were friends with both of us. I’m not perfect and this mistake was one of my biggest in my first college job. Since then I’ve made a habit of never venting about work to anyone I work with because while venting is sometimes, and often inevitably, needed, try to keep the line between personal and work very visible.
Third, ask the person if there is anything you can do to better the relationship. While you may feel that the other person is entirely at fault, that may not be true. When we’re uncomfortable, we sometimes make other uncomfortable. Some people are oblivious. If they aren’t unaware we’re feeling a disconnect, they may just carry on, full force ahead, and never stop to think about whether we’re actually working well together. So, slowing the pace and asking if there’s anything we can do to better communication, openness, etc. may make them reflect on the relationship and go from there. Sometimes they will say “nope, we’re great together!” This is the nightmare answer. However, you can adjust the question. Say, “I noticed you seem to prefer email communication. Would you mind setting aside ten minutes each week to meet in person?” If the problem is blocked communication, having a weekly meeting will force in-person communication, which will allow the comfort level between you two to increase and allow for more honest communication down the line.
Fourth, figure out what the problem is and address it head-on. When I had my college job in which I was working with someone who I didn’t work well with, I couldn’t pinpoint the exact issue. I knew how I felt generally and I knew how I felt in specific situations, but overall I couldn’t figure out why we worked so poorly together. We had been friends for two years before working together and suddenly I felt like I was working with a stranger. Looking back, I think some of the dynamics of our friendship and things that annoyed me when we were friends were amplified when we worked together. I hate being put down or treated like I’m less intelligent than someone (though I do recognize when someone is smarter than me). The person I worked with made me feel like way regularly. I also felt like I was co-parenting. People would ask me something, I’d give my answer based on what my co-worker agreed upon and then they’d respond, “but *** told me (insert something completely different than we discussed).” Or, sometimes when I’d be handling a situation, she’d appear in the hallway, and just watch. It felt like Big Brother was watching and made me feel like I wasn’t strong enough to handle the situation. Let’s just say, different leadership styles, being made to feel inadequate or lesser, and lack of communication was at the root of this failed partnership. While it’s hard to pinpoint, finding the specific reason(s) for your feeling of discomfort in your working relationship is key to improving the situation.
How have you dealt with working in uncomfortable, less than ideal working relationships?