Coming home from a stressful day at the office got me thinking about how tough working relationships can be. All relationships are complex because humans are inherently complex, but professional ones are super tricky. We can’t always choose who we work with nor what we work on, but the work still needs to get done. Here is a short list of things that can make (or break) a professional relationship, based on my experience. (Yes, most of these mistakes were, or still are, mine.)
(Not) Appreciating Feedback
Do you value feedback? Yes? Just the favorable kind, or all feedback? Let’s be honest: most of us have tried to come up with excuses for ourselves when faced with negative feedback and that’s natural at some point. But if you haven’t overcome the need to explain yourself when faced with negative feedback yet, you might miss out on some valuable and useful insight.
For example, your colleague tells you that your emails tend to have grammatical errors. You might want to say how you pay more attention to what you send to customers, but the communication inside the team shouldn’t have to be so strict. True, but why not writing killer emails all the time?
Not all feedback is useful, though. Some are simply not worded well. Some are unsolicited. Remember: you don’t have to take all feedback into account or implement it in your life, but don’t write it off just because you didn’t like hearing it.
(Not) Giving Praise
It’s easy to tell your best friend how eloquent she is, or what nice manners he has. In a working environment, however, it might seem awkward to give praise or compliments, especially if you haven’t yet build a rapport with someone. Well, giving praise is one of the ways to build it.
If you notice how well your colleague has handled a stressful situation, or what a good idea they have pitched during a meeting, or simply how nice their hair looks today – say it. It’s always nice to hear something nice about oneself. Plus, most humans react well to positive reinforcement and will make extra effort to maintain this good image in the future.
Of course, you don’t want to overdo it. Too many compliments may be perceived as flattery with an ulterior motive, especially if directed at your superiors.
Avoiding conflict may seem like a generally good idea, but at times it can be counterproductive, especially in a working environment. Let’s assume you have noticed that a teammate of yours has been sloppy with their work lately. It will affect your team, your department and, eventually, your company and its customers.
Even though having that conversation is not pleasant, someone will eventually have to tell your colleague that they have noticed their poor performance. If you do it sooner, rather than later, you might save everyone some trouble. Your colleague may have just needed someone to take notice of them, to see how important their work is, and how it affects the whole team in both positive and negative ways.
If your attempt does not bring any improvement, then it is time to talk to a supervisor or an HR officer. But before even trying, don’t consider it someone else’s job. If you have noticed it, do something about it.
(Always) Being Right
Who doesn’t enjoy being right? Most of us can list an occasional “I told you so” among our guilty pleasures. Am I right? 🙂
Being always right, however, is simply impossible. If you try to do it, you will most likely come off as obnoxious. Imagine how unpleasant you feel when someone is desperately trying to win an argument, to the point when they are no longer listening to you, because they are working on their next come-back. Ugh.
This behavior is, other than being childish, very counterproductive in a working environment. Remember, you are on the same side with your colleagues and your goal is to solve problems together.
If it’s not you, but rather someone else in your working environment, who aims to always be right, try to explain to them how it makes you and others feel. Preferably not in the middle of a heated discussion – at that point, they are probably not even listening.
Most of us tend to lose temper in a comfortable environment: in front of close friends or family. You can tell your brother that he is the worst person ever and he will forget about it in a day and still love you afterward.
In a working environment, however, even a minor rise in tone or an ill-suited word might insult a colleague. Even if they don’t report it to anyone, or ever mention it, your outburst could have caused them to, for example, not communicate their ideas anymore.
We, humans, are emotional beings, and it is fine to be emotional about your work because your emotions are what keeps you going and makes you stand out. But, in a working environment, one should always try not to react emotionally, but rather to keep their temper and discuss the matter at a later time, with a clear head.
I know this last one is particularly hard for me to overcome.
How about you? Which mistakes do you make? Which ones have you stopped making? What are your tips for improving work relationships?