Look people, if we have to spend every day together, we might as well get along!

Karen presents part two in our discussion on our relationships with our co-workers!

Relationships with co-workers are some of the most frustrating relationships in our lives. Unlike friends, we don’t get to choose our co-workers. As Jim mentioned, they are sometimes more like family, functional or dysfunctional. They are thrust upon us and we have to spend the majority of our waking hours in their presence. This means they have the potential to either be some of the most satisfying relationships we have or some of the most frustrating relationships we have.

As Jim also mentioned, the biggest mistake people can make is trying to get their personal needs met within their relationships as work! I have reminded several friends over the years who were disappointed in work relationships that the real reason we work, is to make money or to further a cause we believe in, but not to make friends. Actually making connections and friends at work is a bonus. We are blessed when it happens but it should never be our goal in the workplace.

Jim said he has met almost all of his closest friends at work. This has been true for me on several occasions. In fact, I have been lucky enough in every job I’ve ever had, to leave with at least one, really good, lifelong friendship. I think the key is in the type of work you do. Do you have a job you don’t really enjoy, and just go to every day, punch in, do your work, punch out and leave? Or do you have a job you love and feel passionate about? If so, it is likely a place that will also attract other people who love and feel passionate about their work with whom you will form great friendships. These are the easy relationships. These are the people you can enjoying working with on a common goal.

The more difficult relationships are with those people that we don’t share a passion with. In fact, it may be hard to find anything in common with some people at work other than a need to be in the same building every day together. This does not, however, mean that we shouldn’t at least try to relate to them or try to improve the relationship. Doing so will only help all of our days go just a little more smoothly. Whether or not you like someone or can relate to them effects your ability to meet your common goals on the job, so these are the relationships that, rather than trying to avoid or ignore, you really have to focus on improving.

I realize in some organizations this can be more difficult than in others. Some places have a culture of competition. In some companies back biting, and trying to step over each other on the way to the top is encouraged. If this is the case, and you aren’t comfortable with that environment, and you don’t see a way to improve it, then maybe it’s time for you to consider moving on. I have been in those situations, I understand the difficulty of uprooting and leaving a position that may seem secure.

However, we need to remember we are charge of our own personal fulfillment and happiness and sometimes taking leap of faith like that, into a new job or career, will be one of the greatest decisions we ever make!

As with any relationship, the key here is communication. I recommend starting small. Saying “good morning” to a grumpy co-worker, every single day whether it is reciprocated with any enthusiasm or not, can go a long way to making both your days more pleasant. Take an interest in what they do. Take an interest in their life outside of work. Ask questions, get to know them. Find the one thing you can relate to with a difficult coworker and build from there. There has to be something you share in common, something you can agree on. Most of the time, you will find out you actually have something unexpected in common, a shared interest or experience. You may also find out that all those times you thought they were being grumpy at you had absolutely nothing to do with you at all. They had their own stuff going on. You don’t have to end up being best friends but you do have to learn to respect each other as co-workers.

Just start with “good morning.” I promise it helps.

Keep in mind, not everyone has the same life experiences. Not everyone grew up in the same culture. Don’t assume they should know what you mean or what you are talking about. Don’t assume they understood your intentions. Don’t assume they get it at all because they may not. In fact, don’t assume anything, just ask. Everyone needs to feel heard and respected. Clarifying goals, expectations or intentions can go a long way to improving work relationships. Also, don’t be afraid to admit when you’ve been wrong, or even kind of a pain to deal with yourself. As with all relationships saying “I’m sorry” can fix almost any screw up.

This doesn’t mean that everyone lives happily ever after at the office. It doesn’t end all conflict but it does help to have a more pleasant work environment. It means you can work together more easily. It means everyone’s day gets just a little better.

You spend most of your waking hours with your co-workers, every week. Why not try to make that time as enjoyable as possible. If you can look at the big picture, if your goals revolve around the greater good of the entire organization rather than your own personal goals, not only will you build a really great organization but you will also, sometimes unexpectedly, and make some really great relationships with your co-workers that will last long after you’ve both moved on to other things.

Stay tuned for Karen and Jim’s next installment in their year long series on all the relationships in our lives!