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Small gestures make a big difference: How to build productive relationships with coworkers

You know that saying ‘You can choose your friends but not your family’? Well, the same could be said about coworkers. You might not get to choose who you work with but developing a good working relationship with those around you could make life easier for all.

We all want the same thing at the end of the day: a happy, harmonious and productive working environment. If you’re looking to build a harmonious and productive spirit among your coworkers, here are some tips that have been proven to help.

Acknowledge your differences

While it’s great to find coworkers who you immediately click with, some relationships may need a little more effort. We all have different personalities, views and ways of doing things. The key is to understand and accept this.

It’s all too easy to put negative ‘labels’ on fellow workers. You might consider them loud-mouthed, pessimistic or stand-offish, but ask yourself why they might behave that way. Stick a label on them and you’re automatically writing them off. This can lead to negativity and distance, and that’s not conducive to a productive working relationship.

We also tend to label relationships as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. But relationships fluctuate and often sit somewhere inbetween. Rather than writing a colleague off because, look for the positives and work to develop them.

How to deal with different personalities

You may not be able to change someone’s personality but you can change your attitude and own behaviour towards them. It might mean swallowing your ego, but by being more approachable yourself, you might be pleasantly surprised by their reaction.

  • Be pleasant – a morning greeting, a thank you, even a warm smile can make a big difference to someone else’s mood and attitude towards you.
  • Be positive – a relaxed and positive attitude could rub off on the pessimists. But don’t let their negativity rub off on you. Keep your distance if they’re in a really sour mood, so you don’t end up responding badly and getting into petty arguments.
  • Find common ground – whether it’s a hobby, books or films you both enjoy, similar values or even food, find something you both have in common and build on it to create a sense of camaraderie and shared experiences.
  • Include them – make an effort to invite the more shy or stand-offish colleagues when you go out with workmates. Someone who may seem ‘boring’ at the office might open up in a social setting. Likewise, during team meetings, ask their opinions and encourage them to contribute.
  • Avoid gossip – a nasty comment can spread like wildfire and get back to the person concerned, destroying trust and breeding resentment. If you have an issue with a coworker, speak to them in private and try to resolve things in a peaceful way.

 

Be aware of micromoves

Micromoves are the small gestures that can have a big impact. Micromoves can be both positive and negative, and they’re not always a conscious act.

A micromove could be a throw away comment, a facial expression, a shrug of the shoulders, a look at your phone when they’re talking to you. These seemingly minuscule gestures can leave colleagues feeling undermined, unliked or unimportant.

On the other side of the coin, a positive micromove will go a long way to building a productive bond at work. Positive micromoves include gestures like ending a call early when a colleague comes to see you, or a tap on the shoulder to acknowledge when they’ve said or done something good.

How to heighten your awareness

It’s important to see micromoves from both sides. For example, a colleague doesn’t reply to your email for a couple of days so you start to worry that they’re ignoring you. In reality, they’re just busy and haven’t got round to it. You’re overthinking the micromove and they’re underestimating it.

Rather than build it up into a problem, call them or go and see them in person to resolve the situation. And if you ever happen to be the one who’s not responding to an email, be aware of the effect this might cause.

Put yourself in their shoes

If you’re constantly at loggerheads with someone in your company, look at things from their point of view. Emotional intelligence is the ability to see things from viewpoints other than your own and to empathise. It’s a skill that employers are learning to value very highly.

Empathising with someone doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. It’s about taking the time to listen and take their views into account. It’s stopping to consider why they feel a certain way or why they came to a particular conclusion. The more you can understand someone’s emotional viewpoint, the better you can respond to them and find a solution.

Some people are naturally more emotionally intelligent than others but anyone can learn with practice.

How to practice emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence starts with self-awareness – the ability to recognise your own emotions and reactions, then taking steps to change. It could be as simple as checking yourself before an outburst. If you find that hard, try writing down your feelings and analysing why you feel that way.

Practise the following behaviours to improve your empathy skills.

  • Actively listen – give them your full attention, not a half-hearted attempt while continuing to scroll through your phone.
  • Use a sympathetic tone of voice – how you respond can be just as important as what you say.
  • Use positive body language – offer a welcome smile, not an impatient sigh.

 

Always be prepared to consider your part in any breakdown with a coworker. It’s not a sign of weakness to admit you’re wrong; quite the reverse – humility shows strength of character and earns respect.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I offend easily?
  • Is their behaviour a response to my own negative micromoves?
  • Am I 100% right, all of the time?

 

Nobody can expect you to like everyone but acceptance, good manners, empathy and self-examination will make you a better coworker and make for a more productive working environment.

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