Maintaining healthy relationships at work is an important part of making your work life more productive as well as more fulfilling. In addition, your career success will ultimately hinge on your ability to develop strong relationships at work with coworkers, supervisors, and clients.
This guide offers several key aspects of developing and maintaining strong professional relationships as well as links to more in depth articles on the subject.
Characteristics of Healthy Relationships at Work
It is actually a myth that relationships are either professional or personal. In reality, most relationships in our lives, including at work, have traits of both. Humans are highly social animals and building bonds with others is something that happens when we work closely with others over a period of time.
The same characteristics that make for good personal friendships can also make for good professional relationships, including:
- Commitment to shared goals and purposes
- Honoring different points of view
- Comfort with diversity
- Being present and mindful of the needs of others
- The ability to be vulnerable
- Desire to be helpful
- The ability to challenge each other to strive for growth and development
Drawing and Respecting Boundaries
Although healthy professional relationships share many characteristics of healthy personal relationships, it is important to be able to have boundaries between our personal lives and our professional lives. One of the most critical aspects of maintaining healthy relationships at work is to learn to both assert boundaries as well as respect those asserted by others.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to appropriate boundary setting between your personal and professional lives. You have to decide what you are comfortable sharing about in regards to your personal life and with whom. However, becoming more aware and intentional about those boundaries can help you maintain healthier relationships at work.
Sometimes sharing too much about your personal life in a workplace setting can make people uncomfortable, diminish how you are perceived, or erode your authority in the workplace.
Examples of blurring the personal/professional boundary at work may include:
- Talking about subjects such as politics or religion
- Sharing details about intimate relationships
- Gossiping about the personal lives of other employees
- Discussing family conflict and drama
- Bringing up subjects concerning the physical or mental health of yourself or others
While you may develop a close friendship with someone at work with whom such subjects are safe to discuss, it is best to have those discussions after work hours and away from other coworkers. Of course, gossiping about others in the workplace is never appropriate.
Curating Your Social Media Presence
Another way that some people make the mistake of blurring personal and professional boundaries is through social media platforms. Take the time to check your privacy settings to make sure your personal posts on social media are visible only to friends in your personal network and be choosy about who you add to that list.
Consider developing a professional social media presence on sites such as LinkedIn in order to keep in touch with professional relationships outside of work. This allows you to keep topics of conversation on professional subjects, such as a shared news article that is relevant to your field. And, it allows you a place to develop a professional network which can contribute to career advancement in many ways.
Develop Your Communication Skills
One of the biggest sources of conflict in relationships at work is poor communication. While you cannot control how others communicate at work, you can learn more about effective communication strategies to help reduce your own contribution to misunderstandings.
A few examples of strong communication skills include being able to:
- Clearly articulate your needs in the context of collaborative work
- Offer praise for work well done and constructive feedback for work that does not meet reasonable benchmarks
- Ask clarifying questions to fill in your own gaps of knowledge rather than making assumptions
- Say no to taking on work that you know is beyond your current capacity
- Ask for guidance when needed
- Respect the boundaries of others as well as your own
Managing Conflict at Work
No matter how hard we try, sometimes we just do not get along well with a particular coworker. It is important to first try to bring as much empathy and respect to the table in such cases. However, that alone will not always solve the problem.
If you find that you are unable to prevent conflict with a team member despite your best efforts, it may be time to bring in another perspective to solve the problem before it gets out of hand.
The first option in most cases is to schedule a meeting with your supervisor. Be prepared to discuss in detail the strategies you have tried to use to manage the relationship in a healthy way. In addition, make a note of instances where you felt the other person may have violated your boundaries, treated you abusively, or otherwise created roadblocks to working together in a productive way. And, keep an open mind to the feedback you get during the meeting and try to implement any solutions offered by your supervisor before taking other actions.
In other cases, such as in cases where the problem is with your supervisor, going to the Human Resources department with your problem may be a solution, but not always. Observe what has happened to others who went to HR and assess how HR has dealt with them. Consider all your options.