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Relationships are hard work no matter matter what the type of connection it is. Some of the hardest social interactions are those within the work environment, due to minimized control over who our coworkers are combined with the high stakes of needing those relationships to succeed. As an employee and as a boss, I’ve seen both sides of this particular workplace relationship.
I’ve also witnessed other workplace relationships, some of which went horribly wrong while others got better with effort.
Dealing with a bad workplace relationship can be challenging, but you most likely need to keep your job, so it’s important to manage the relationship and make it work with the boss and others. Plus, being able to improve difficult relationships is also a good skill to have in life.
Before a sour workplace relationship gets to the point of adversely impacting your performance, here are some steps I recommend that have worked in other situations.
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Make An Effort to Understand Each Other
What makes us unique as individuals can also be the cause of conflict. That’s because the more different we are, the more challenging it is to understand where each of us is coming from. When you share information about yourself, colleagues and supervisors can see your communication and personality style as well as gauge your perspective on life and work. In as much as you open up, ensure that you are equally receptive to learning about the communication preferences and perspectives of others.
Taking the time to really understand each other may not change personalities, but it can help clear up conflict. Even if you continue to disagree about something, the animosity that is rooted in misunderstanding can be alleviated.
Leave Your Attitude at Home and Kill With Kindness
We’ve all had that boss or colleague who is truly difficult to work with. But don’t let your frustrations turn into bad behavior of your own lest you bring out defensiveness in others or cause your decisions to be questioned.
Besides, if you regularly appear at the office in a good mood, it can help to improve a rocky relationship over time.
Share Expectations and Feedback
Once upon a time, the workplace was only about the boss and what they expected of employees. While the authority is still clearly with the boss, what has changed is the prevailing idea that a boss benefits from hearing about their employees’ expectations. This is another way of deepening that shared understanding, which can neutralize any tension.
There’s a lot to be said for putting your ego aside and just getting some good work done. Actions are their own form of communication, and when you’re butting heads with someone, letting those positive actions speak louder than any negative words you’ve shared can make a huge difference.
Even better, take initiative and take care of new or important work without being asked. In doing so, you can impress your boss and maybe even make them look good in the process. No matter how difficult your boss is, it’s hard to dislike that.
Stand Up for Yourself
While it’s important to try to build a positive relationship with your boss, establishing boundaries may still be necessary. Standing up for yourself doesn’t mean becoming defensive, threatening or loud. Rather, it can mean saying “no” if you feel like you are being taken advantage of or are being asked to do something outside of your expertise.
Often, bosses will push to see what an employee is willing to do, and they can respect an employee who speaks up when the time has come. Doing so can show good judgment, so long as you speak up about the right issues and do so respectfully.
Remember We Are All Human
It’s not making an excuse for bad behavior to say that we are human and have our quirks. No matter what’s going on in your office, it’s important to have sympathy or even empathy for each other. Doing so can help you communicate better and even feel less frustrated in the first place.
If you’ve tried all of the above and are still struggling with your relationship with your boss, it’s important to acknowledge that not every workplace relationship can be repaired or improved. There may be times when you may need to move on because the situation is too detrimental to your morale and productivity. If you do decide to transition to a different division or company entirely, take what you have learned about dealing with difficult workplace relationships and apply it to future ones.
This article was originally published on the Economist Executive Learning Blog here. Its author, John Rampton, is an entrepreneur, investor, online marketing guru and startup enthusiast. He is the founder of online payments company Due.