Updated June 12, 2023
Co-worker relationships refer to the professional interactions and connections employees have with each other in a workplace setting. These relationships are often based on shared goals, responsibilities, and interests related to the job and can range from formal to informal.
Managing co-worker relationships involves walking a tightrope between friendly and not-too-friendly, creating a balance between aloofness and bonhomie.Building good co-worker relationships is an uphill task in such a scenario. However, like all relationships, it requires patience and time. And it involves self-analysis and awareness on your part and an understanding of the dynamics of power and politics in organizations.
Build Good Co-worker Relationships
Have you faced a situation at the workplace when you felt that all your co-worker relationships were the worst? And everyone seemed busy plotting and scheming against you and was gleefully waiting for your downfall?
Welcome to the club.
Professional life is full of landmines created by the push and pull of workplace politics, the changing equations between people working together. Every working person has faced this situation at least once. And it does not matter whether you work in a corporate office, educational institution, or NGO; as long as you maintain co-worker relationships, you will have to deal with power struggles, conflicts, and stress. Be friendly, garner your co-workers’ support, and have a healthy work atmosphere. At the same time, you must be careful not to be too friendly, or you may lose the professional equilibrium at the office.
Does this seem like too much hard work for you? It is quite simple. Let’s see it step by step.
What kind of a person am I?
What type of personality do you endorse? Before categorizing co-worker relationships and learning how to deal with them, let us check our motivations and inner orientations.
- Introvert or Extrovert? Introverts tend to avoid social company and prefer to stay alone. If you fall into this category, you will keep to yourself and hardly reach out to your co-workers.
- High or Low Self-Esteem? If your self-esteem is low, you will more likely be affected by adverse comments or negative feedback from co-workers.
- Communicative or Tongue-Tied? People with effective communication skills can reach out better to people around them and express their feelings and ideas. If you are naturally reticent, you must make an extra effort to bond with people.
- Positive or Negative Affect? Focusing on the positive aspects of others and your work makes you less likely to suffer from work-related stress.
You may have difficulties slotting yourself into one particular category, as each of us combines various personality traits. However, once you know your own emotional intelligence and mental strengths and failings, you can work better towards building good co-worker relationships.
Power and Politics in Co-worker Relationships
Organizational culture and dynamics have a role to play in sustainable co-worker relationships. The policies and power structure, managerial control, and the level of autonomy influence the extent of interaction and bonding between employees.
Power play and politics are part and parcel of work-life. Wherever more than two people work together, sparks are bound to fly! You must understand the political atmosphere of your workplace.
If your organization encourages unethical use of power and political behavior, the relationships between individuals and groups are unlikely to be healthy. In such cases, survival becomes the prime goal of job holders, and they resort to various tactics to retain their position. In such an organization, you must maintain high integrity to influence and bond with your co-workers. Informal bonding and out-of-office friendships can thrive in such cases.
Types Of Co-worker Relationships
One of the first lessons you learn about joining a workplace is that people behave in different manners in varied situations. One moment you share confidences with your cubicle neighbor; the next moment, when the boss starts lecturing you on your mistakes, your confidante is solemnly nodding in agreement and giving you holier-than-thou looks.
You will soon come to terms with such chameleon-like behavior of co-workers and perhaps label them as villains. But if you think logically, you will be able to understand that various compulsions dominate workplace behavior. Being true to your friendship is probably not one of them.
By and large, I think co-worker relationships can fall into the following categories:
1. Conservative and averse to risks, security-oriented
These co-workers will resist your attempt to upset the status quo. They are supremely concerned about job insecurity stress. They are hostile toward change.
2. Dominant, ambitious, and goal-oriented
These people are driven, ambitious, and goal-oriented. To them, success means achieving work targets and proving their worth. To them, co-worker relationships matter as long as they help achieve work goals.
3. Social, interested in networking with others
The social network where everyone wants to know everything about everyone. They will chat, gossip and build informal social relationships at the workplace. To them, a happy workplace is one where everyone knows each other on intimate terms and meets outside the office.
4. Power-hungry and manipulative
A power-hungry co-worker will do everything to attain and retain power. These people usually resort to unethical means to preserve control and indulge in political strategies.
5. Happy-go-lucky, laidback, and casual approach
This type usually avoids working too hard with a casual indifference towards achieving work targets. While they are great at livening the work atmosphere, they typically lag behind schedules and tend to avoid responsibility.
Since each co-worker is different in sensibilities and behavior, you must treat them accordingly. Adopting a professional approach is the best way to develop good relationships in the workplace.
How to Build Good Co-worker Relationships?
You need to work on them.
Common courtesies matter like:
- greeting coworkers first thing in the morning,
- offering a genuine smile,
- sharing lunch,
- showing genuine sympathy when things go wrong,
- remembering birthdays, etc.
And if you do want to work towards building great co-worker relationships, then the following tips may help:
1. Support and Lend a Helping Hand
Offer your support to co-workers when needed, for example, during personal distress, family emergencies, and stressful situations. Don’t wait to be asked. Your gesture will go a long way in building rock-solid co-worker relationships. If your co-worker wants to share some difficulty, listen carefully before offering advice. Be empathetic towards the problems of your co-workers. Workplace relationships, just like every other relationship, are based on mutual support and give and take.
2. Discontinue Discussing Office Politics
If you have been in a job for a year or so, I am sure you have burned your fingers with this one. A juicy discussion on who was backstabbing whom in the company turns sour. What if your comments are forwarded to the concerned person or your conversation is overheard? Office politics is a landmine in canteen chats and informal discussions with co-workers. You never know who is on which side.
3. Proper Channels of Communication
Jobholders are sometimes overly conscious of their authority in the workplace. Co-worker relationships are permanently damaged if you undermine your co-worker’s position or authority through your words or actions. Be careful to communicate through official channels and processes.
Avoid sidestepping the chain of command even if your equation with your co-worker’s subordinate is rocking. If you want something done, communicate with your co-workers, or at least keep your co-workers informed.
4. Communicate Your Requirements In Advance
Remember when you wanted an urgent printout from the shared printer and were dismayed to see your co-worker taking out reams of report printouts? You had to wait for an hour, and your assignment got delayed.
Shared resources are a source of several interpersonal conflicts. It is always better to inform in advance that you will need the printer, copier, or even common spaces like conference rooms. This way, you can avoid stepping on anybody’s toes or delaying someone else’s work.
5. Politely Refuse Unattainable Goals
“Why didn’t you tell me earlier that you can’t do it?” is the common complaint you will hear from your co-worker if you can’t deliver their unreasonable or last-minute demands. Saying no to requests is something most of us can’t do for fear of offending others. What we need to realize is that if we deliver later, it causes more heartburn and disappointment.
Your “no” will surely put off your co-worker relationships but will save you from future disappointment. But ensure politeness at all times.
6. Confront Them
We are all emotional creatures, and no matter how much we try to keep our behavior professional in the workplace, there are times when troubles do occur. Egos are hurt, and personality clashes do take place.
So what do you do then?
- Go running to your boss complaining?
- Hoping that a third party will intervene and make things all right?
- Sulk for days and avoid your co-worker?
Please don’t do any of the above.
Directly chat with your co-worker, and convey what has upset you. They may try to avoid the topic or justify their actions. Let them finish speaking. Then put forward your point of view. Direct and effective communication solves most problems that avoidance and shoving under the carpet can’t.
7. Distance From Negativity
You will find one or two whinings, complaining, perpetually-disgruntled co-workers. They will play the eternally-wronged victim. Some people have a persecution complex ingrained in them. Avoid them. Negative people spread negativity in the workplace. It is best to stay away from such people. You cannot hope to build good co-worker relationships with them but get sucked into all kinds of politics and stressful situations.
8. Don’t Be Biased
You will always have some preferred co-workers who vibe well with you and build great friendships with you. While it is normal to collaborate with friendly and supportive colleagues, make it a point to work with everybody.
Friendships and personal relationships must not be allowed to overpower professional equations in the office. Show equal enthusiasm toward working with everyone. Don’t let other co-workers resent your closeness with one or two colleagues.
9. Fight Your Ego
Most of the time, unconsciously, we behave from a high-handed point of view, sermonizing, lecturing, holding people responsible for errors, etc. Reflecting on our behavior later, we realize that maybe we were too rash in our judgment. Maybe we wrongly berated someone.
So it is apology time now. Slip into your rational persona, and acknowledge that you were mistaken. It takes a lot of nerve to own up to mistakes, particularly errors of judgment. But you don’t want to spoil your co-worker relationships permanently. So go ahead and say sorry.
10. Third-person Interest
Arguments and disagreements are common in the workplace and can occur between the most compatible workers. Inter-personal conflicts affect at least two persons but may benefit a third person. A jealous or resentful co-worker can take advantage of your disagreement and worsen the co-worker’s relationship with a particular colleague. Be careful about that, and clear the air as soon as possible.
Besides the above ways to build good co-worker relationships, another step in that direction is to develop a sense of humor.
Do you take yourself, your official position, and your designation too seriously? It’s time to loosen up and develop a sense of humor.
People do not always want to offend you purposely or plot against you. Many of them value co-worker relationships. Realize the effects of your ego, and deal with a sound mind, not a rummaging heart.
Your efforts towards relationship building are bound to be noticed and appreciated in co-worker relationships.
And before you know it, your workplace equations will have improved. So keep at it, and remember the most important trait: PATIENCE!
So here are some articles that will help you get more details about co-worker relationships and attraction.