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Good Working Relationships and What Defines Them

Updated: Jan 13, 2023

What's so important about good work relationships?

We spend a third of our lives at work, so it's natural that we want our work relationships to be the best they can be. Human beings thrive on being sociable, and when those relationships—whether at home or at the office—break down or aren't fulfilling that can take a big toll on our personal well-being, not to mention our work performance.

Good relationships at work are respectful, trusting and supportive enough that we feel comfortable being ourselves. When our basic human relationship needs are met we can feel more open, honest and free to express ourselves, but most of all, we have the foundation we need to thrive at work.

5 basic qualities of a good working relationship:

1. Respect: Valuing each other's points of view, feeling safe with our co-workers, and feeling mutually supported.

2. Trust: Being able to be open, honest and not having to worry that we'll be undermined or disparaged—openly or behind our back.

3. Good communication: An atmosphere where we're not afraid to say what we truly think, and where we know how to express ourselves, listen to others respectfully, and feel we're being listened to.

4. Self-awareness: Taking responsibility for what we say and do, and being aware that our own moods, emotions and beliefs impact others.

5. Inclusion: giving everyone equal respect, equal voice in decisions, a feeling of belonging, and access to opportunities and resources. Welcoming diverse cultures and perspectives into all decision-making processes.

Building Good Work Relationships

7 ways to insure that we're the best co-worker we can be:

1. Cultivate listening: Truly listening to others means paying attention and really hearing what they're saying. Bring curious and interested goes a long way toward making others feel validated and valued.

2. Be kind: This can be anything from remembering a birthday to complimenting someone on their work. Offering to help someone with a difficult task or deadline can also build trust.

3. Maintain good boundaries: Knowing where we stand, what we value and what our limits are keeps us from overextending ourselves and not speaking up for ourselves when we need to.

4. Appreciate co-workers: Sometimes it's easier to see people's flaws than their strengths. But if we can get past the small irritations we might just find an ally in an unexpected place.

5. Keep our negative emotions and evaluations in check: Sometimes we're just having a bad day and sometimes someone just rubs us the wrong way. Keeping a positive spirit about the shortcomings of others—and knowing the proper place to express grievances—is vital for a harmonious workplace.

6. Cultivate a positive attitude: Just like anywhere in life, keeping a positive attitude in the workplace improves the atmosphere for everyone.

7. Don't gossip: Though gossip may seem harmless, it can deeply undermine good feelings and well-being in the office. Sometimes it's necessary to air out difficult feelings, but sharing your less charitable feelings to someone outside of the workplace or to a trusted friend or therapist is the way to go.

Handling difficult work relationships

When relationships do become challenging, as they are bound to at some point in your working life, here are 6 tips for working with them.

1. Keep your cool: If you can avoid lashing out or saying things you may regret that's half the battle won. People who can manage their own emotions tend to be perceived as more in control and more worthy of respect.

2. Keep the lines of communication open: Sometimes we can overcome a speed bump by calmly talking things out. Stonewalling or insisting on being right limit interaction and therefore resolution. If you're not capable of calm communication in the moment, give yourself time and space to cool down.

3. Hear what your co-worker is saying: Explaining the rationale behind your intentions and goals, and earnestly being curious about the rationale behind others' actions, can save misunderstanding and actually go very far toward diffusing a tense situation before it escalates.

4. Treat co-workers with respect: Always behave respectfully no matter how upset, angry or misunderstood you feel. If you can't do that, take a timeout until you can, or talk to someone outside the office to get some perspective.

5. Focus on what can change rather than the problem itself: Sometimes we can't see the forest for the trees. But if we shift our focus to the things about the issue we can actually change—or the things we can agree on—the whole problem shifts. Finding common ground is one of the most important things in any relationship, rather than focusing on differences.

6. Know the proper channels for resolution: Most companies have a protocol set up for dealing with issues between co-workers. If you've tried and the situation still seems irresolvable, it's time to speak with Human Resources or follow the channels your workplace has put in place to resolve stubborn conflicts.


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