top of page
  • Writer's pictureJohn Bryant

10 Ways to Build Positive Relationships With Difficult Colleagues

There's no I in team, but there are a lot of opinions, personalities, relating styles, commitment levels, and dynamics. Chances are someone has one or two of those you don't care for. You may not like all of your colleagues, but you can still have a positive working relationship with them, which will improve your productivity and satisfaction at work.

Before you write off a coworker as being intolerable, use the following techniques to overcome your differences and create a positive working relationship.

  1. Get out of the office. Whether it's going to lunch, coffee, or taking a walk around your building, ask them to spend some time with you outside the office, and don't talk about work. Moods change, walls come down, and perhaps you can experience your coworker in a way that you previously haven't. Get to know more about them as a person and find some common ground. Maybe you both have kids or like the same Netflix series. Even if it feels awkward, the simple act of reaching out to them is enough to diffuse tension and change the dynamic with them in the workplace.

  2. Apologize and mean it. If you've argued with this colleague or made snarky remarks, swallow your pride and apologize — even if your colleague was in the wrong, too. Pride can ruin what could've otherwise been a positive, productive relationship. You may not receive an apology in return, and you certainly don't have to take all the blame. But you can own your wrongdoing, and apologize for it. If your coworker seems angry at you, and you don't know why, ask, and apologize for the accidental offense.

  3. Have a difficult conversation, respectfully. You can confront a colleague about their behavior respectfully. Avoiding difficult conversations with your coworker will not serve to improve your relationship. What it could do is allow more anger to build up, which might manifest itself in destructive ways. If you feel hurt or disrespected by your coworker, talk to them about it. You can ask for a manager or representative to be present if you don't feel comfortable doing it one on one.

  4. Don't vent or gossip. Avoid talking to people in your office about your problems with a coworker. As much as you may want to commiserate, it breeds negativity, can hurt your relationship more, and damage your reputation. If you're feeling frustrated and need to vent, talk to someone outside your office, who doesn't know your coworker. If their behavior is grounds for disciplinary action, report it to a manager or HR.

  5. Change your perspective. Look for their strengths and talents, rather than their shortcomings. Empathize, and be honest with yourself about how they might experience you. When you view them as an equal, who is flawed but worthy of your respect, you can change the way you relate to them, which might be exactly what your relationship needs.

  6. Be present. Forget about past behavior and focus only on how to positively experience your present encounter. Be a better listener and open to their ideas. Focusing on the present is a healthy way to rid yourself of some of the baggage that is keeping you from experiencing your coworker in a positive way.

  7. Offer to help. Ask them if there is a project you could help them with or another way you could be of assistance. If this isn't possible, you could also ask them for advice or input on something you're working on.

  8. Acknowledge their contribution. A genuine compliment on their contribution will help create rapport and diffuse tension. If you have the opportunity to recognize their work in a meeting or in front of others, do it.

  9. Be persistent. Your relationship is not going to change overnight, especially if there's existing tension between you. Don't try and manufacture friendship or pander to them. Approach changing your relationship slowly but persistently.

  10. Be Genuine. None of these techniques will work if you're not genuinely interested in building a relationship. Forget what you know about your problem coworker, and start fresh. Clearing your mind of past experiences and judgment enables you to move forward with a positive attitude and change your relationship with your colleague.

You have the power to change your relationships with your colleagues and create a more positive, productive work environment for yourself and others. Employee satisfaction increases by nearly 50% when workers develop good relationships on the job. Research also shows that an open network is the number one factor determining your career success. That means it directly impacts your success to build relationships with people, who are NOT just like you. It's harder, but it's worth it, and you can start today, with your difficult coworker.

16 views0 comments


bottom of page