Northeastern British Columbia




Relationships among co-workers, supervisors and other employees on the job are usually complex and sometimes puzzling. The solutions for relationship problems are rarely simple, but they can generally be found if you approach the situation with a positive attitude.

If you have "people problems" at work, scan the following list of common problems and see if you can apply some of the suggestions to your situation.

My co-workers seem distant and unfriendly.

People who are very quiet or self-sufficient sometimes forget that their silence may be interpreted as aloofness, indifference or hostility. Take the first step. Greet everyone pleasantly every day. Talk to people even though it may feel a bit awkward at first. To avoid misunderstandings, communicate frequently and openly. Soon others will be communicating freely and openly with you—it's hard to remain gruff when someone is smiling at you!

My supervisor doesn't give me enough direction or feedback.

Tactfully and pleasantly, ask your supervisor to explain the required tasks or supply a written description of them. At an opportune moment, request feedback on your work. Then graciously accept any suggestions for improvement, and comment on how helpful the feedback has been.

Find ways to give yourself frequent feedback. Your self-evaluation might include a daily list of accomplishments or deadlines met.

My skills and abilities are underused.

Look for ways to make your job grow into one that is more challenging. Discuss the organization's goals and objectives with your employer. See if there are ways you can contribute more: offer to assume more responsibility, provide suggestions for improvements, make changes, do something others have neglected. For more ideas, see the tip sheet Job Enrichment Strategies.

My co-worker is very critical of others, including me.

Tackle the situation head on by discussing the problem with your co-worker. Listen to his or her side of the story. If the complaints are justified, discuss how you can work together to change things. If the complaints are not justified, explain why the person's behaviour is a problem—it damages morale and therefore reduces team productivity. State clearly and frankly what will happen if the behaviour doesn't stop, and follow through.

I am being hounded and treated unfairly by my supervisor.

Discuss the problem in private with your supervisor as soon as possible. State your feelings openly and frankly. Avoid accusing or getting angry. Listen carefully to what your supervisor has to say. Try to work out a solution that is acceptable to both of you. Then do your best to make sure your actions are in line with your agreement.

If the situation doesn't improve after a few weeks, go to human resources personnel or your supervisor's boss and request a two-way or three-way discussion of the problem. State your case to the best of your ability and listen carefully to the others.

If the problem continues, you can lodge a formal complaint with the Human Rights Commission, formally request a transfer, or start job-hunting. Some work situations are just too difficult to tolerate. An ongoing negative atmosphere is unhealthy for you, and will destroy your future with the company anyway.

Two of my co-workers dislike each other, and I am caught in the middle.

Stay as neutral as possible. If you side with one or the other, you damage your relationship with one and reduce the productivity of the team. Suggest to each of them that they seek help in solving their working relationship problem, and let them know that you have made the same suggestion to both of them.

My co-workers are mean-spirited and uncooperative.

Examine your own behaviour first. Do your co-workers have good reason to feel jealous or resentful? If so, change your behaviour before you expect them to change. Do your best to be as generous and cooperative with them as you would like them to be with you.

If, after a reasonable time, there is no change in their behaviour, discuss the situation with your supervisor or someone else you trust and respect. Try their suggestions. If your relationship with your co-workers still fails to improve, you may have to ask for a transfer and/or start looking for another job. In your new job, do your best to establish better working relationships from the start.

I am running into a problem I can't handle myself.

Talk to someone you respect who is skilled at handling people. Your working environment is as much your responsibility as anyone else's.