Osayi Alile on Navigating Work Relationships

There is probably that one or two colleagues whom you do not have a good relationship with, and you may have no explanation which can be quite complex. Consider Lara Williams who works with an IT firm. She oversees the support unit, responsible for resolving all client’s complaints within a short time. With over ten direct reports and a very demanding work schedule, her new manager may be overly critical. He picks on tiny issues; dismisses ideas and does not acknowledge excellent work. Discouraged at first, Lara resolved to separate her emotions to enable her to form a better judgment and perhaps turn this situation as an opportunity to strengthen her interpersonal skills.

She started checking in regularly to understand his expectations while actively seeking clarifications in order to ensure they are on the same page. Whenever he raises a concern, instead of interjecting with counterattacks, she made sure to listen attentively and respond in a rational, non-defensive manner. Sometimes she would agree with him, suggesting solutions or offering explanations where necessary. Even though their relationship is far from perfect, she can attest to the fact that there have been fair improvements. If for nothing, she now applies this strategy to her other relationships.

 Emeka on the other hand never understood why his colleague was socially awkward. To him, she often appeared passive and uninterested. She seemed withdrawn and always avoided office banter. But working on a group project made him appreciate her tactful nature.  He found that although introverted, she would always come up with strategic solutions to a problem just after some minutes of reflection. He would later invite her to lunch or to attend office events with the others: just about any reasonable scheme to force her into social interaction.

In her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, Susan Cain explains that introverts “may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas.” While an extrovert will be recharged by these type of events, introverts require a bit of personal space to refuel. Nonetheless, introverts may find it difficult presenting themselves leader-worthy if they do not learn the tricky nature of office politics without feeling out of place. Like Emeka, if you find that your colleague prefers solo work, you may want to acknowledge this personality difference and adapt to him or her. 

One key to navigating work relationships is understanding that apart from the profession, co-workers may share no other characteristic inherent in other relationships especially within family members or close friendships. Hence, accommodating differences, adapting and tolerance is very key. Many people who have been able to translate work relationships are glad. Who knows?! Your stable, compassionate and reliable real-life friend could be that colleague who does not like your dress sense!

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