Coworking relationships: how do they work?
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.
First, we need to understand why work relationships are unique:
Work relationships mainly differ from the relationships in our personal lives in that there are more boundaries, more things you can’t ethically do and things you can’t ethically say. 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. Events that might cause you to distance yourself from a friend or take a break from that situation are unsustainable at work because the work must go on. The rules that cause us to have these powerful, sustainable relationships with practically everyone differ from workplace to workplace. They even differ over time as the team of colleagues changes. It’s much easier to understand the principles behind these rules, so that you know the reasoning behind how every workplace treats its relationships—and what those rules might become in future. These principles are actually quite simple.
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
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 who shares a desk with you asks if you saw the TV show that you both watch. You discuss it 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 if you can bring that skill to today’s work, because they feel their own presentation last week could have been much better. You thank them and promise to share your tips as you contribute to the project.
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. You want to complain casually, but this isn’t the time or place. Your coworker quickly turns it off, apologizes to the office, and a few of you laugh with the coworker.
A boss is a catch-all term for your employer, manager, or anyone who has authority over you as a worker. In this case, your boss calls you into their office to talk about your work this last week. The boss says they notice that you have been getting distracted, which has caused you to create less work lately. They ask 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. You apologize and say that you have had a bit of a brain fog lately. Together you both come up with ways that you, personally, can work on this, such as visiting a doctor or letting yourself rest at your desk more often. Your boss compliments you on how well you have taken this criticism and you thank them for their advice. Finally, your boss reminds you that the office is going out for drinks later today, where everyone will have a chance to socialize in a positive and more casual way.
Sometimes there are people in our workplace that we don’t necessarily work with, but with whom we still share a workplace. In this example, you discover that an old classmate takes their lunch in the same place as you, because they work in a different section of the company. You never actually see each other while working. Over many lunches you share experiences, find you have a lot in common in and outside work, and start to meet up in your leisure time. Here, your friend lets loose and speaks more bluntly about work in a way you appreciate, then goes back to being more optimistic and polite at lunch time. After a while, this friend says that they know common wisdom doesn't recommend this, but they would like to try dating you. You agree on the condition that you will try to stay friends if it doesn’t work out, because being comfortable at work and eating lunch in this spot is important to you.
Work relationships are built around what you can do rather than what you can’t, and what you like more than what you dislike.
Even when difficult things need to be said, this attitude delivers those difficult things in a way that eliminates unnecessary stress and then focuses the conversation on solutions, which means that difficult conversations become useful and, at times, even pleasant. And in a place where the first thing everyone has in common is that they share a working space, this focus on good relationships is crucial.
In these scenarios, can you see the situations where each of you deliberately uplift and show each other respect? What about situations where you each avoid disrespect and blunt negativity? That is the power of a good work relationship.