How to communicate well at work.
Updated: May 10
The workplace can seem like a land of contradictions when dealing with others.
You have to be formal, but people still make friends? Romance is discouraged, but one of the main places spouses meet is at work? If I get a job through a friend, how am I meant to start treating them?
Work relationships are a unique brand of camaraderie. And they only take a little explanation to understand, which is what we’ll do in this easy guide.
Work relationships mainly differ from the relationships in our personal lives as there are more boundaries, and more things you can’t do and things you can’t say.
As annoying as it might be to feel restricted in 'being yourself' at work, these social rules exist to maximize the likelihood that everyone is happy and able to come in every day, no matter how they differ from their colleagues.
The key to understanding work relationships is in two rules: Respect and uplift.
What do we mean by respect?
Respect means giving other people what they need and deserve. In a work relationship, this looks like:
Being a good listener
Tolerating the viewpoints and beliefs of others
Taking the requests of others seriously within reason
Treating everyone like someone very important, including yourself
Being prompt, punctual, and not taking up too much of others’ time
Be willing to collaborate, share work, and share credit when it’s due
Set and respect boundaries, such as avoiding conversation topics that cause arguments, or not interacting with someone in a way that could make them uncomfortable in the workplace
What do we mean by uplifting?
Uplifting means keeping each other in good spirits when possible. This looks like:
Being both realistic and optimistic when discussing work
Taking good care of your mood and work ethic
Only bringing up something negative when it is necessary
When showing respect, also showing gratitude and appreciation, such as by saying thank you
Complimenting and congratulating coworkers, for example when they have achieved something
When possible, displaying open body language that signifies you are willing to listen
Using positive language directly, saying less positive things without bluntness, and giving criticism gently
Sharing positive and work-appropriate things with colleagues, such as conversations during breaks about a certain thing you both enjoy
Now that we know what a workplace means by respect and uplifting, what do your workplace relationships look like within these two parameters?
Here are some ways you will typically interact with certain colleagues.
You arrive at your office in the morning. As you prepare your work for the day, a coworker you are attracted to asks if you saw the TV show that you both watch.
- Handle your emotional and physical desires towards this coworker and avoid any advances. Being polite and professional (even if you are attracted to the person) is respectful.
- Listen to your coworker talk about the show, but being mindful of your time.
You discuss the show briefly, then after a minute, the conversation moves on to what you’ll be collaborating on today. Your coworker congratulates you on an excellent slide presentation yesterday, and asks for your help today with their presentation.
- You thank your coworker for their praise on your work
- You promise to share your tips on their presentation
When your coworker opens a video website, a highly opinionated political ad plays loudly, which you know they agree with passionately but you don’t like.
- Handle your personal views about the presentation and do not start an argument with your coworker.
- Share your opinion on the content, design and structure of the presentation, not the emotive quality of the piece. It is also valuable to tie thoughts of whatever they have contributed back into the job role. So, you might say, "Well, I personally disagree with [political opinion], but I liked your use pictures to convey the message. The part on XYZ was particularly relevant to [our job] because it highlights the importance of [ABC]."
You may find your work day is different to this, and indeed there will be many different experiences when you start a job. The key information here is that it is important to present your BEST self to work (when possible).
If you remember to respect each other and try to be uplifting, you will do well with coworkers.
A boss is a catch-all term for your employer, manager, or anyone who has authority over you as a worker.
Your boss calls you into their office to talk about your work performance. The boss says they notice that you have not been meeting your deadlines although they had given you plenty of time to do the work.
- Listen to what your boss has to say.
- Handle your emotional reactions by not lashing out with anger or sadness.
- Take responsibility for your actions. Have you been missing deadlines? OWN IT.
The boss asks if there is anything they can do to help you, or if you have any ideas about what you can do to be more productive.
- Apologize and take ownership for the missed deadlines. This is not a time to fill your boss' time with excuses of why you are late with work. Simply accept it and move on.
- Thank your boss for allowing you to share ideas (remember: a boss doesn't need to ask for your input - they can just *tell you* what to do).
- Give your boss a few ideas of HOW you can be more productive in the future.
For example, if you felt overwhelmed with the workload, and this caused you to procrastinate and not do the job, then don't make that a reason for not doing the work.
It is better to say, "Perhaps we might reduce my workload a bit, as I am worried about feeling overwhelmed" and, you could add something like, "With less work on my plate, I might be able to bring my best self to the work I am contributing on".
When you are communicating with your boss, you will likely find a lot more respect is shown, rather than the focus on the "uplift".
While some bosses will be very positive and engaging in that way, if your boss doesn't compliment you regular, that's okay. A boss will (generally) think more highly of an employee who is respectful and honest, rather than once who is always upbeat (often to their own detriment).
Work relationships are built around what you can do rather than what you can’t.
No matter what happens in your workplace, use a positive orientation. What CAN you do? What COULD be possible? How CAN I help? What CAN I change?
There is no shortage of stress at a workplace, but remembering to respect and uplift can see you through.