Do you have colleagues who are curt, callous, or just plain cold toward you?
It’s not uncommon for employees to find themselves in a situation where they’re not universally loved within their workplace, says Rita Friedman, a Philadelphia-based career coach. “It’s rare that you can find a group of ten people who actually do all truly like each other, and in an environment where people depend on one another to accomplish tasks and meet deadlines, it’s only natural that there will be some tension, and often some grudges.”
Ryan Kahn, star of MTV‘s Hired! and author of Hired! The Guide for the Recent Grad, agrees. “During the 40-plus hour work week, people often end up spending more time with their co-workers than they do with their friends and families. Just as in any relationship, there are going to be conflicts.”
Most people work with a diverse group of colleagues with different skill sets, backgrounds, values, and interests—and while these differences can collectively make an organization stronger, they can also be a source of conflict, he adds.
“Every workplace has its own dynamic,” Friedman says. “In some offices, it’s practically standard for new employees to feel as if they are on trial and being judged harshly. This is most likely to occur in places where there have been major reorganizations or layoffs, and new employees are seen as a threat to veteran workers or a lower-cost, lower-caliber replacement for a beloved former colleague.”
Or maybe it’s just you.
If you don’t have strong interpersonal skills; don’t understand the company culture; don’t know how to adapt your style to work best with different personality types; or aren’t able to predict and address any potential conflicts before they become problems, you might be subjecting yourself to eye rolls and blow offs (or worse) in the office.
But whether it’s you or the office dynamic—you’ll want to try to get on your colleagues’ good side.
“It’s important to have a positive working relationship with all of your colleagues, even if you don’t have a strong personal relationship,” Kahn explains. “Very few people work in silos and will need the help of others in order to do their job well. Being a team player or working collaboratively are points that are commonly included in annual reviews, and it just takes one poor relationship to undermine your hard work for the year.” Even if you’re not interested in spending time with someone outside of work, take the time to appreciate what they bring to the table, and try to establish a cordial working relationship.
Friedman agrees. “While you don’t need to suck up to colleagues or flatter them with undeserved compliments, it is important to maintain an atmosphere of politeness, respect, and geniality in order to create an environment where people come in to work with a good attitude. It’s really hard to be productive when you resent the place you work or the people you work with.”
Want to win over your colleagues? Here are 10 things you can do:
Get to know your co-workers. Take time to learn about your co-worker’s life and interests outside of the office, Kahn says. “Sometimes it may surprise you how much you have in common.” One way to do this is by spending your lunch or coffee breaks with as many different people within your organization as possible. “This will help to grow your internal network, in addition to being a nice break in the work day.”
Listen. Sometimes just being a good listener can go a long way, Friedman says. “Rushing to get your own ideas out there can cause colleagues to feel you don’t value their opinions.” Show respect and listen to their suggestions or thoughts. Try to engage in a conversation instead of a competition.
Be friendly. It might sound obvious, but sometimes we forget to smile throughout the workday. This might send the wrong message to your colleagues (and could be the reason they’re not so friendly toward you). “Be sure to learn colleagues’ names, and say good morning and good evening every day,” Friedman says.
“Small gestures can make a big difference,” Kahn adds. Leaving someone a handwritten note of congratulations after a promotion or major milestone can be very memorable. Taking time before starting any interaction to ask “How are you?” and genuinely showing interest in the answer can also be effective.
Don’t avoid the problem. If you have a co-worker that you can’t stand or who can’t stand you, it’s important that you continue to work constructively with them, Kahn says. “I’ve seen employees go out of their way to avoid others in the workplace, which only exacerbates the problem.” If conflict is arising, talk to the colleague to find out what you can do to resolve the problem.
Avoid gossiping or saying negative things about co-workers. Saying something negative about a colleague in the office or online is one of the fastest ways to get caught up in office drama, Friedman says. “Don’t be afraid, however, to praise co-workers to other co-workers.”
Be grateful. Thank your co-workers for their contributions and their help, even when you feel it’s part of their job anyway, she says. “Everyone likes to feel appreciated, and creating a culture of gratitude is likely to make co-workers want to go above and beyond for you in the future.” Offhand compliments about a colleague’s new haircut or sweater might be nice flattery, but work-related compliments in the office carry lasting weight.
Adjust your work style by personality type.“Consider the person that you’re dealing with before each interaction and what will get you to your desired outcome,” Kahn says. “Sometimes it helps to watch how they interact with others and shadow what gets the best response. For instance, some people prefer to have more of a personal relationship and spend time chatting before any business dealing. Coming in too directly could be mistaken as short or terse and set the wrong tone for the meeting. Meanwhile, others view time spent chatting as too personal or inefficient and would prefer meetings to be short and to the point.”
Offer your help. Sometimes it can be hard to tell whether a co-worker would appreciate your help or whether it could come across as an intrusion–but you’ll never know if you don’t ask, Friedman says. “If you are asking colleagues whether they could use some assistance, do so quietly. It’s not about showing the rest of the team that you’re taking on extra work, it’s about actually helping someone out and building that individual relationship. If you do take on extra work to help someone else, don’t act like a martyr. Remember that you’re doing this because you want to.”
Accept constructive criticism with grace. One thing that sets senior leaders apart from their more junior counterparts is their ability to view interactions objectively, Kahn says. “For instance, if someone criticizes your project or the way something is being done, consider this constructively. Too often, junior employees can mistake constructive feedback for personal attack.”
Friedman agrees. “Even if it’s hard to hear, try to keep an open mind, maintain positive body language, and thank the other person for their input. Don’t argue or try to justify yourself. You can always think about it and pick up the conversation again later. Being receptive is an important part of winning others over.”
Remember to give your colleagues the benefit of the doubt; don’t always assume they’re being vicious.
Go with the flow of the workplace. If everyone else gets together for a weekly after-work drink or softball game, it’s probably a good idea to show up every once in a while, even if it’s not really your scene, Friedman says. “Conversely, if it’s the type of office where most people value the separation of work and personal life, don’t expect your co-workers to come to your Oscars party or half-birthday celebration.”
Also try to gauge what’s acceptable for casual office conversations. “No matter what, don’t over-share,” she says. “There’s no reason your co-workers should know about your dating life, medical issues that don’t directly affect your work, or your political or religious leanings.” This will simply irritate them.