Work relationships can often get sticky. It’s human nature to bond with some of your coworkers and even become friends, but these relationships can often fracture when stress is involved.
Stress at work is not unique to any profession. This is even more true these days with the pandemic adding to everyone’s stress. In moments of high stress, someone is likely to snap. If the person on the receiving end decides to tell a manager or supervisor they were snapped at, the situation can quickly snowball into hurt feelings, discipline, and avoidance.
When you consider your coworker your friend, it’s easy to feel blindsided and wounded by them when they complain about you to management. You may think, “Why didn’t they say something before?”
Some may even be tempted to avoid making friends at work and simply focus on the job at hand. This way, they feel they can protect themselves from being emotionally hurt.
There was a time when this impersonal, strictly professional view of work relationships was the norm. But being impersonal at work is now seen as unhealthy. We are complex individuals and more than our profession.
Having some knowledge of your coworkers’ lives can make a huge difference in how you handle conflict with them. It helps you understand why your coworker is a bit short with you or ignoring you when you know they were up all night with an ill child or dealing with a difficult family member.
But everyone has different comfort levels with sharing personal information at work. Sharing too much can lead to frustration, shortened tolerance, and even mental exhaustion. There’s a difference between knowing a coworker is struggling with a life circumstance versus hearing about their evening activities.
So how can you strike a balance between being personal and professional and still get through times of conflict with our coworkers?
5 Ways to Be Both Personal and Professional in Your Work Relationships
1. Show R-E-S-P-E-C-T. You don’t necessarily need to like your coworkers or be their friend. But you do need to accept them as fellow human beings—each with their own cares, joys, and struggles—and to respect their role and job at work.
2. Communicate well. Having meaningful conversations with your coworkers will help you handle the times when the pressures of work cause them to snap at you. Or when you snap at them!
3. Assume good intent. When you’re driving your vehicle and you accidentally cut someone off, you rationalize it. Maybe you were running late for an appointment or not paying as much attention as you should have been. But when someone cuts you off, you assume they’re a jerk. It’s always easier to see someone else as the problem while giving yourself the benefit of the doubt. Try switching it around. How would your coworker see what you just did, not knowing why you did it? What could explain your coworker’s action that isn’t negative?
4. Keep perspective. At the end of your shift, you get to leave. Give yourself some mental and emotional space. You don’t need to take your work home. You may not be able to control the situation at work, but you can control how you react to it—rather than allowing it to control your emotions and reactions. It does take practice, but this is something that you can learn.
5. Give space. Give both yourself and your coworkers the space to make mistakes. Make the focus on progress, not perfection!