The Secrets of getting on with your work colleagues

One popular request for advice from the Alumni Association is on the topic of getting on with your work colleagues. It seems that many of us have difficulty getting on with everyone at work, all of the time. That’s completely normal, but there are tactics you can employ to make your working relationships better.

You spend 40-plus hours a week working – be that in the office or more recently, collaborating with your colleagues via your computer. People in the UK often end-up spending more time with their co-workers than they do with their friends and families, and these co-workers might have significantly different interests, values, and backgrounds.

In this environment, differences are not uncommon, and sometimes personalities simply clash. However, getting on with your co-workers can benefit you in a number of ways, such as helping with effective teamwork, productivity and creating a more pleasant working environment for those 40-plus hours each week.

In order to make your working relationships work, there are some things you can consider:

Mutual respect – you don’t have to get on with everybody, but you should be respectful of each other’s feelings, space, time, and comfort. Simple things like taking your noisy phone conversation elsewhere, turning up on time and taking your dirty dishes to the kitchen after lunch can make a huge difference.

Equally, don’t forget the basic niceties that will make the other people around you feel more at ease. Simple things like smiling, saying hello, and saying please and thank you can go a long way to making your office environment more pleasant.

Avoid talking about politics, religion and other potentially controversial subjects – this can cause unnecessary conflict, and there’s also no need to talk about these things at work. Save it for your friends and family.

Don’t gossip – it may be difficult to resist, but if you engage in ‘harmless’ gossiping you could earn yourself an untrustworthy reputation amongst your co-workers or end up hurting someone’s feelings. Damaged relationships can be difficult to repair.

Ask for help or advice – then return the favour. A great way to build teamwork is to show your colleagues that you value their advice and opinions by asking for it – and be willing to help them out too if they ever need it.

Give credit where it’s due and own up to your mistakes. Likewise, stealing credit for other people’s good work is also a fast way to make enemies around the office.

Don’t be antisocial – build-up rapport with your colleagues by accepting invitations to social events, or chatting over lunch. It can make the day go far more smoothly (and quickly!) if you can positively engage with the people around you.

Criticise constructively – if you must criticise someone’s work, increase the likelihood of it being well-received by starting off with something positive. You can then go on to give them something specific that can be improved upon, rather than attacking their hard work. It also helps to focus your criticisms on the situation, not the person.

Resolve problems, don’t ignore them – things are only going to improve if you face your problems head on. If you don’t get on with someone, don’t avoid him or her but try and find some common ground, talk to them, and try to work it out. Be willing to accept that it may be them reacting to bad signals that you are giving off unintentionally.

Consider carefully whether to complain to management about a situation… Going over someone’s head is one of the fastest ways to ruin relationships with your co-workers. It can ruin the vital sense of camaraderie in your team, and lead to an office culture of game playing and one-upmanship that can make even the most pleasant of office environments into a Machiavellian nightmare!