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How to Navigate Tough Relationships in the Workplace‍

Michael Porcelli
August 24, 2023

You have a great job, in a great company, with a great mission, but you didn't choose the people on your team. It's unlikely, if not impossible, that you'll get along well with every one of them all of the time. 

If you could wave a magic wand, people would be able to read your mind—but only the parts you want them to read, of course—and everything would just happen naturally. Instead, the time and effort spent managing these relationships can get in the way of you doing great work, enjoying yourself and your connections on the job. 

Let's dive into this widespread problem and get clear on what we can do to solve it. 

You didn’t pick your team, someone else did.

The first point of clarity needed here is that someone else picked your team members. 

This means there will inevitably be people in every workplace who are different from you. You don’t like everyone, and not everyone likes you. However, you still want to feel satisfied at work and do a good job, and these people sometimes seem like they’re getting in the way. You tolerate their annoying habits and their quirks, making yourself as malleable as possible, but you ultimately have limits. 

And no matter how successfully you adapt, it’s only a partial solution

All your energy gets tied up in managing difficult relationships.

Do the math on the amount of energy it takes to manage difficult relationships, and you’ll be dumbfounded. Imagine what you could get done if so much of your time and attention wasn’t focused on trying to figure out how to make them work. 

You need to make sure you’re on the same page to get the job done, but it takes so much extra effort with some people, and all your creative energy gets burnt up in the process.

You lose your zest for work. 

In managing these relationships, you start to become a more diminished version of yourself. If you can’t solve this problem, you’ll end up either quitting, getting fired, or being chronically dissatisfied. 

As you lose enthusiasm, you cut corners. 

You disengage, coast, and give up on your best ideas. You censor yourself to avoid rocking the boat. 

Ok, ready to dive into how to solve this problem? 

You need to recognize that there will always be people in your workplace who you find difficult to work with. And if you don’t handle this effectively, you’ll expend too much energy managing these relationships for little gain, if any.

Here’s how.

1. Notice where things feel stuck between you and another person

It’s important to be honest with yourself and be as specific as you can be. What did the person do or say? What did you do or say? As you inquire, notice how you feel towards the other person. Notice how you feel toward yourself. Consider the details of the situation and the circumstances at play. Imagine how things could have gone better.

2. Notice any patterns or themes to how you get stuck with people. 

As you examine each relationship in particular, see if any similarities emerge. Be on the lookout for a sense of familiarity, especially when you feel reminded of similar situations from your past. What specific descriptions or narratives fit the pattern? 

3. Get curious about the part you’re playing. 

It can be tricky to notice your part because faulting others is often easy. Other times, it’s easy just to blame yourself for the whole thing. Neither of these is empowering because you’re unlikely to discover specific alternatives you could have chosen. That said, take note of anything you could have done or said differently. If you can’t, then look for places where you feel a strong or fixed sense like “that’s just who I am.” Imagine what it would be like if this aspect of your identity were more flexible, and notice if any options open up.

4. Get curious about the other person. 

Look past any reasons you have for why the other person is just ignorant, misguided, or a terrible human being. Specifically, what did they do or say that you’ve got an issue with? What about their behaviors seems surprising? Notice thoughts like, “That’s not something a good colleague would have done.” Consider what might be going on that could have them behave this way. What circumstances might you not be aware of? What positive intentions might be driving their actions?

Focusing on a relationship like this might open up possibilities you can put into action right away. Or, you might also be unsure of what to do next. 

This might have you feeling either overwhelmed or simply fed up with the situation, especially for more difficult relationships. But be assured that these are merely the initial steps, and there’s a lot that can be done to build on this foundation.

So many of us derive meaning, satisfaction, and accomplishment from our work together that it’s crucial that we learn how to navigate the tougher relationships to get the job done and enjoy our time while doing it. 

 If you’re ready to dive deeper into this work…. check out these FREE options to get started:

1. Register for our webinar: Introduction to Relational Communication

2. Sign up for an Exploratory 1-on-1 Coaching Session

3. Download our MetaRelating EBook - Introducing MetaRelating

And if you have any questions, set up conversation with us.

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