Resolving a Bad Relationship at Work

The average full-time worker with two weeks of annual vacation spends up to 250 days or 2,000 hours each year on the job. Unfortunately, many employees spend this time interacting with co-workers they don't get along with, making their work situation almost intolerable.

If you have a problem with a co-worker and you're growing weary, don't despair. Although you can't guarantee cooperation from the other party, there are some practical things you can do in an effort to turn the relationship around. Review the tips below to see how you can confront bad work relationships.

  1. Take a good look at your own attitude and behavior first.

Before you complain or point a finger at your co-worker, take an honest look at how you might be contributing to the problem. Are you letting your feelings make you snappy, over-sensitive, jealous or uncooperative? Addressing your own negative attitude or behavior can often help decrease the distress brought on by the bad relationship and help you to address the only thing you really have control over - you!

  1. Stop the negative talk about your co-worker.

If you keep talking about the person you have a problem with you run the risk of being labeled as a whiner, complainer or troublemaker. Gossip or other talk that criticizes or belittles your co-worker also has a way of coming back around and biting you where it hurts. Take the high road and resist the temptation to spread the problem around the office.

  1. Keep your emotions in check.

Overreacting to a problem often results in a loss of your credibility and can diminish the significance of your complaint. Make sure you are maintaining emotional balance in your own life by not allowing your frustration to turn into anger and your anger into bitterness. Use a spouse or friend's listening ear to help you blow off steam if necessary, but when confronting the problem at work, do your best to keep your cool.

  1. Stop avoiding your co-worker and confront them privately.

Ignoring or avoiding the problem is not likely to make it go away. Talk to your co-worker about your concern making sure to use "I" messages in order to convey your willingness to take responsibility for your thoughts and feelings. ("I feel frustrated when your late reports hold up our deadlines" is better than, "You are always late with your reports.") If you are successful in resolving the issue, make sure to follow-up with your co-worker after a couple of weeks in order for both of you to know where things stand.

  1. Attempt to understand your co-worker's perspective.

Conflicts often occur when two people simply don't see things the same way. So, whenever you have a relationship problem, make a sincere attempt to look at the situation from the other person's point of view. Hearing them out and asking them to clarify whatever you don't understand can go a long way in keeping healthy dialogue alive.

  1. Let go of resentment and give your co-worker another chance.

If your co-worker is willing to address their role in the relationship problem, don't hold their past behavior over their head. Letting go of (or forgiving) an offense literally involves a willingness on your part to act as if the incident never occurred. That doesn't mean you will forget or that it won't take time to rebuild trust, but in the meantime you won't be harboring thoughts and feelings that could undermine the relationship in the future.

  1. Carefully rally the support of others.

If your co-worker is unwilling to address your individual concerns, they may be more persuaded by several people expressing the same complaint. Turning a one-on-one confrontation to a group intervention can sometimes bring about positive results. If you opt to go in this direction, however, be very careful to only involve the people who share your concern, have first-hand knowledge of the circumstances and who can be trusted to handle the matter discreetly and appropriately.

  1. If your best efforts are met with resistance or indifference, you may have no better option than to try staying out of their way or physically moving.

If your co-worker opts to ignore your concerns it may be appropriate to steer clear of them. Keeping your distance while maintaining a positive attitude about the relationship may be a reasonable solution to a difficult situation. If possible, you may want to request a transfer to a different work space or another department.

  1. If the tension and problem grows, involve a corporate third party.

Sometimes it's not possible to bring about change on your own or even with the help of peers. If this is the case, turn to others in the organization who may be able to look at the situation more objectively and, if necessary, utilize resources and consequences that will ultimately resolve the problem. In many cases, this will involve supervisory personnel or the Human Resources office. If you must report a relationship issue that's affecting your workplace, make sure you stick to the facts and explain your situation as objectively as possible.

  1. If all else fails, move on.

If in good faith you have done your best to resolve a bad relationship problem and the steps outlined above have failed to work, it may be time to find a new job. Some work environments are known for enabling or simply ignoring problematic relationships and may never offer the assistance needed to resolve your complaint. If this is true of your employer, the unhealthy cycle is not likely to change, so the best solution may be to move on before the problem gets worse. It's always better to leave on good terms in case you need a recommendation for your next employer.

Live, Work and Relate Well!

Dr. Todd

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