Serious breakdowns in working relationships must be dealt with using departmental, company or institutional protocol in order to protect staff members and employers. However, we often encounter low level problems with colleagues, leading to frustration, delays in the completion of projects and unhappiness at work. How do you prevent these small problems developing into more serious tensions?
Be open and honest (but not too honest!)
If your working relationship with a colleague is poor, the first thing to try is being honest with them about how you are feeling. If you do not communicate, the person concerned may innocently assume that nothing is wrong. Opening a dialogue will ensure that you can air issues before they become too serious.
However, tact is as important as honesty! Do not simply offload your concerns with no thought for how the other person will react. Some colleagues are very sensitive to implied and explicit criticism and will immediately become hostile when challenged. Instead of saying ‘I hate it when you do x’, try a more neutral approach: ‘do you think y might be a better way of dealing with this?’ Think proactive and productive rather than critical and defensive.
When to call in another opinion
You may be tempted to sound off to another person about the problems you are facing. While seeking another opinion is a valuable part of negotiating a good working relationship, gossiping behind someone’s back is not. If you feel that you would like a third person to intervene and offer advice, speak to someone who knows both of you well, who is familiar with your work processes and who will suggest a constructive way to deal with the problem. A line manager is a good option, or a colleague who has undertaken similar sorts of work. He or she will be able to offer a valid opinion where there are differences over approach to a particular problem.
Ensuring fairness and balance
Many disagreements are not about differences of opinion over the practical approach to a problem, but rather about sharing work fairly, ensuring that credit is apportioned based on work put in. It is vital that recognition is made of the contribution of all parties. Keep an informal timesheet of the amount of time you spend on a project and the processes that you contribute to. Equally, be honest about your colleague’s involvement. If the creative ideas and innovation came from them, and then you did the ‘donkey work’ based on their instructions, while you may have spent more hours on the project, your colleague may be seen as the senior partner.
Personalities and how to work with like minded individuals
Another problem faced is that of simply not getting on with a person with whom you have to work closely. You may find them too brash, too shy, over-confident or too cautious. You may resent them trying to take the lead, or conversely, find that they are holding back waiting to be instructed with little to contribute. It is easier to work with people with similar attitudes to work. It is important to thoughtfully assess your own personality and attitudes, and then you will see which colleagues you will click with.
However, there may be a reason why your boss has paired you with someone with different attributes: you will both have something exciting to contribute to a project. The combination of your approaches will provide balance and enhance your work. So do not always resist working closely with someone with a very different personality. You might find that your differences spark an excellent working relationship.