Coworkers can make or break a work environment—for the better or worse. Although we can’t choose who we work with, we can choose how we interact with them. We turned to Dr. Stephanie Sarkis to get insight into how to approach building and maintaining positive relationships with coworkers.
Dr. Stephanie Sarkis is a clinical specialist, counselor, author, and overall expert in helping people navigate emotional and professional situations effectively. If your office environment has grown tense or toxic, taking steps to bond with your colleagues and improve your working relationship is not only going to improve team dynamic but it is going to make your job much easier.
Glassdoor: What’s the #1 thing people can do to improve their relationships with their coworkers?
Dr. Stephanie Sarkis: Seek to understand rather than to be understood. Consider where your coworkers are coming from with their thoughts, actions, and attitudes. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, but it does help you detach from conflict and you may even form some new friendships.
Glassdoor: What do you see as common areas of conflict or frustration with coworkers, and how can those best be avoided and/or handled?
Dr. Stephanie Sarkis: One of the main sources of conflict or frustration with coworkers is feeling like you are not being heard or respected. This can be a demeaning feeling. This is especially true when the lack of respect is a violation of your basic rights – like freedom from harassment in the workplace. Setting firm boundaries with coworkers can help, and if your legal rights are being violated, consult an attorney.
Glassdoor: One of my favorite quotations is this one by Samuel Johnson: “Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not.” What’s a strategy or tactic you recommend for working with people you may not like, but have to get along with in order to be successful at work?
Dr. Stephanie Sarkis: Realize that very rarely is anything personal. Everyone you interact with is going through their own struggle, something that you know nothing about. While disrespect shouldn’t be tolerated, remember that if someone at work is irritable, remember the cause of their irritability most likely has nothing to do with you. Watch that you are not “mind-reading” your coworkers – you truly have no idea what they are thinking. Besides, what people think of you is none of your business.
Glassdoor: What are some ways to foster connections that also maintain professional boundaries?
Dr. Stephanie Sarkis: Find common ground with your coworkers. Maybe you both share an interest in travel or photography. Maybe you both find your boss to be insufferable. (Be careful talking about that last one with your coworkers – you never know what is going to get back to your boss.) A good rule for professional boundaries is not to talk to your coworker about anything that you would not want repeated in front of your coworkers or your boss.
Glassdoor: When all else fails, what can employees do to improve their working relationship with colleagues?
Dr. Stephanie Sarkis: Look for the good in others – notice and compliment your coworkers on a job well done. Positive reinforcement is something all people enjoy, and it shows that you are a positive and empathic person. Also, always give credit where credit is due. If a coworker was instrumental in you being able to complete a project, make a point of acknowledging it.