Dealing with challenging relationships at work

You love your work – but you can’t stand the person you work with. It’s a struggle to keep you both from bickering, let alone falling into a full-blown, claws-out argument.

But you don’t want to give up your job and murder is clearly out of the question! So what can you do?

Work relationships, like any other relationship, can sometimes be challenging, so here are some tips for dealing with difficult relationships in the workplace;

1. Recognise the other person is behaving the only way they know how to behave right now, given their attitudes, strengths, weaknesses and awareness. Your demanding boss may well behave that way with all his staff. Thinking he “shouldn’t” be that way makes about as much sense as thinking it shouldn’t be raining. The only question is how can we best influence his awareness and hence his behaviour.

2. Recognise each of you believes you’re being reasonable from your perspective. People always do. Your colleague’s perspective is different from yours. She may well not be pulling her weight but somehow she’ll be justifying that to herself. Maybe she believes she’s making or made some other contribution. Maybe there are other pressures in her life that she’s more focused on.

3. Try to understand the other person’s perspective. Criticising or attacking them because they have a different perspective is denying our differences. If we can understand where they’re coming from, we’re far more likely to be able to influence them. Your colleague may be willing to open up with you about her issues and perspective over lunch or a drink. She may be even more likely to if you’re willing to be open about any issues you may have.

4. When others push your buttons, remember that has as much to do with your buttons as it has to do with their behaviour. Acknowledge your buttons and try not to blame them on the other person. They are just the trigger for your programming. Perhaps you’re getting increasingly upset with a colleague whom you think is meddling in an area he doesn’t understand. But he is who he is. This is the only way he knows how to behave with the awareness and perspective he has right now. Your reaction is all about your own programming. Own and accept your reaction. It will then subside more quickly and you can focus only on how best to change your colleague’s awareness or perspective and hence his behaviour.

5. Think about how you can contribute to the other party rather than just focusing on your own interests. Most people are reasonable at some level and are usually looking to meet their own needs and wants. They appreciate people who are trying to contribute to meeting their needs and are more likely to do the same in return. Perhaps your colleague just needs to feel he’s being noticed and respected for his views.

6. Keeping the above in mind, suggest a meeting to talk about the issues you each may have.

  • Use ‘I’ statements where possible. “I have difficulties with what you’re doing. I’m not blaming you but I need your help to deal with it”. This usually works better than: “Your behaviour upsets me”
  • Listen to the other person without interruption. The aim is to first understand their perspective.
  • Empathise with their views and situation, which means making statements that convey your understanding of their position.
  • Focus initially on how you could contribute to meeting their needs rather than trying to change them.
  • Understand neither of you is to blame. The aim is not to find blame but to resolve issues and move forward.
  • Don’t focus on past events. Let them go and focus on making a better future.
  • Try to recognise the positives in the other person, not just the issues. Be courteous, tactful and empathic.
  • Avoid making too many assumptions about how they might be thinking. Ask them. Don’t expect them to read your mind either.
  • Look for win-win solutions. Solutions that just satisfy one person’s needs will leave the other unsatisfied and are likely to rebound later. Solutions that go some way to meeting both party’s needs are generally more desirable in the long run.
  • Agree some goals and what actions you’re going to take to achieve them. Make a commitment to follow through.
  • Recognise each other’s efforts and celebrate your achievements.
  • A relationship at work is not so different to one at home – either may need some work to iron our any difficulties. Our colleagues are important to us so it pays to do the best we can to ensure we get along. So don’t suffer – do something proactive to resolve the situation.


About Graham W Price:
Graham W Price, Chartered Psychologist, CBT Specialist and Stress Management Consultant. He offers a seminar in London costing just £20.00 that teaches Positive Acceptance. See . The seminar is available on DVD at

Graham’s book What Is, Is! The Power of Positive Acceptance, based on his training, is available from Amazon and good bookshops. A free pre-view can be downloaded at .

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