Chief Executive Officer
Gary Burnison is CEO of Korn Ferry. He is the author of Advance: The Ultimate How-To Guide for Your Career and Lose the Resume, Land the Job. For more information, see KFAdvance.com.
Put any group of people together and there’s bound to be a variety of strong opinions and conflict over different choices. You see it all the time with coworkers. Human nature being what it is, each coworker has his or her own agenda and self-interest.
The ideal is for all those self-interests to become a shared interest—becoming aligned with the mission and purpose of the organization or project. But that won’t happen if people stay polarized from each other.
Your coworkers are the people you spend the bulk of your time with—whether in a physical office or connecting virtually. When you let your guard down and show your genuine self, others will be more likely to do so as well. That allows you to connect with your colleagues, see them for who they are (including the strengths they bring to the team), and discover commonalities.
As you undertake this journey into greater self-awareness, here are 10 ways to improve interpersonal relationships with your coworkers.
1. Drop your ego. Ego is not your amigo. You can’t think you have the power to “fix” other people—or that the world would be a far better place if you were in charge.
2. Hit the pause button. When you’re triggered by something a coworker says or does, you can’t react like a sprinter off the blocks. Pause between the stimulus and your reaction. Speak too fast and you’ll regret it later.
3. Remember the Golden Rule. Treat others the way you want to be treated. If you can show a little humility and remember your humanity (saying “good morning” or “thank you”), you’ll be surprised how much negativity can be defused.
4. Make others feel better after every interaction. Early in my career, someone gave me some amazing advice. People should always feel better after they’ve spoken with you—even if it’s a difficult conversation. How? By focusing on the issues that need to be acknowledged, the problems that can’t be ignored. Ask for and listen to the opinions of others.
5. Understand others before being understood. Among Dr. Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, one of my favorites is “seek first to understand, then be understood.” What makes others tick? What’s important to them? What’s their communication style? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
6. Listen twice as much as you speak. Listen to understand and take in information. Don’t interrupt or wait for the other person to take a breath so you can jump in. Don’t rush to judge; ask questions if you don’t understand.
7. Be open to feedback. Maybe you didn’t start a workplace conflict, but if you complain to any and all who will listen and play passive-aggressive games, you are escalating the problem. Do you say one thing but do another? These habits may be so ingrained, you may not even be aware of your own behaviors. Get feedback from a mentor or trusted advisor, especially if the conflict is with your boss.
8. Cease the watercooler gripe sessions. The comments go something like this: “You’re not going to believe what they said/did today…” Stop! What do you really get out of feeding the negativity? You’re only escalating the stress for yourself and for everyone else. Unless there is a breach of ethics or integrity (which becomes a human resources issue), let it go and move on.
9. Assume the better motive. Your boss gives you a last-minute assignment late on a Friday and needs it done by midday Monday. Your coworker announces there’s a major problem, and suddenly you’re dragged in to help solve it. Unfair? Maybe—maybe not. This happens all the time in organizations. Priorities shift and things escalate. When in doubt, assume the better motive.
10. Ask for and offer help. As you work together on a joint project or team initiative, focus on what each person brings. The more clearly you can see your colleagues, the better you’ll understand how to work with them. What help can you offer to get the job done? What help can you ask for? Working together, focused on a common problem, can help build bridges.
You and your coworkers may never be friends outside of work, but you still have a relationship. By taking the first step to listen, understand, connect, and see the best in others, you can help ensure these relationships are far more productive—and rewarding.