Co-workers are like extended family, complete with all the off-color and dysfunctional characteristics represented among relatives. Even if you know your workmates well, it’s best to maintain a measure of professional distance to keep your working relationship intact.
On average, American workers spend 30 percent of their lifetimes working at their jobs — often more than they spend with a spouse. And more than the work itself, the people they work with can directly impact the amount of workplace stress they must shoulder.
To minimize job-related stress, distance yourself from any workplace negativity — and keep from creating any yourself. This isn’t to say you need to erect emotional walls in your work environment. Having a friendly rapport with co-workers makes for a positive, collaborative atmosphere. But setting your professional bar high means refraining from inflicting your quirks on co-workers, or letting their annoyances drive you to distraction.
Follow these guiding principles of workplace department to keep your workplace relationships intact:
- Show appreciation. Show your colleagues that you’re grateful to have them on your team. Compliment them on any job well done. If you receive recognition for a project, share the limelight with your co-workers whose contributions helped make it happen. Showing appreciation builds morale and makes talented team members want to stick around.
- Don’t commandeer conversations. If your co-worker has the floor and is recounting a work incident that took place, refrain from jumping in and upstaging him with your own account — even if you have insider or more up-to-date information. Listen attentively, and if there’s a break in the conversation, mention that you have more to add.
- Be discreet about bodily functions. Staff members cross the line when they let out a loud belch or don’t remove themselves when they have the hiccups. Even loud yawns are best to repress. To make work life more pleasant for those within hearing distance, strive to suppress any indecorous sounds.
- Practice principles of common decorum. You may self-identify as a lone wolf, but this doesn’t mean you get to continually avoid co-workers or refrain from returning a greeting when one’s offered. If you regularly keep a veritable “do not disturb” sign on your door, or wear earbuds through the entire workday, it may be time to adjust your thinking. Every business is a people business, after all. People — you just can’t escape them.
- Don’t cross the line with probing questions. Whether your colleague in the cubicle next to you comes dragging in with bloodshot eyes, or a team member appears to be developing a baby bump, stifle your curiosity. Questions about co-workers’ private lives can put them in an awkward or defensive position. Don’t ask. Give your co-worker room to broach the subject — or not.
- Refrain from intra-office dating. Besides the obvious risks of potentially having to work with an ex if the romance doesn’t pan out, you need to keep your private and working lives separate. It’s dreadful competing with a partner over a promotion or plum assignment. You don’t want your co-workers to think you’ll always take your love interest’s side, either.
- Avoid body image comments. Any comments on changes in a co-worker’s appearance — whether it’s regarding weight, wardrobe, hair or complexion — is a potential minefield. Even if you’re framing it as a compliment, a co-worker may find your comment laden with either judgment or, if coming from someone of the opposite gender, chauvinism.
- Quell the rumor mills. Spread gossip and you will become labeled as a gossip. Negative comments about one co-worker to another co-worker make you look as bad as the person you’re chatting about. Take the high road, and never contribute.
- Don’t become defensive. If a co-worker questions you about your work on a project, refrain from jumping to conclusions that your job performance is in question. Give her the benefit of the doubt. Field the question as honestly as possible, but keep your answer brief. If you learn that the motive is to find fault or assign blame, do your best not to take the bait — and make sure your work is beyond reproach.
- Do unto others. Think about how your words and actions affect others. Don’t demean a fellow employee’s work; leave that to a supervisor. If you expect others to pick up your slack or do all the grunt work, resentments will fester. Be that person to whom others give high marks for “plays well with others.”