Working Wounded: Fixing Work Relationships

Bob Rosner

If Relationships at Your Office Are Poor, Chances Are You're at Least Partly to Blame

DEAR WOUNDED: Most of the people who work where I do don't get along. There is a ton of carping and complaining. I'm just one person, but is there anything that I can do to create a better workplace?

ANSWER: Reading your e-mail reminded me of four New York cops I recently read about. They were called to the Bronx to deal with a landlord-tenant dispute. However, they were distracted by a teenager in the hallway smoking marijuana. After chasing him, the police were attacked by a pit bull. Twenty-six shots later -- there was one dead dog, one bitten officer, and three other officers wounded by each other's gunshots.

Three officers wounded by each other's gunshots? Kinda sounds like where you work, doesn't it? Given all the stress and turbulence at work today, it's often tough to stay out of the line of fire. I applaud you for your interest in turning this around, and I've included a few strategies below to help improve your relationships. For more, check out "Suite Success" by Liza Siegel (Amacom, 2006).

Do you criticize rather than offer constructive complaints? Negativity is contagious, but lucky for us so is a positive attitude. Try to accentuate the positive -- avoid pointing out problems without offering a solution. Sure it's harder, but think about how much it helps when someone offers you a solution to the most pressing problems you're facing.

Do you harbor contempt? I really try to not cart around a lot of baggage about my co-workers. But if I do, I always make a point of trying to talk to them about it. I've found that often there is a good explanation for whatever behavior that's driving me crazy. Life is too short to carry a lot of negative energy around each day.

Are you overly defensive? Ever talk to a co-worker who kept his arms rigidly crossed over his chest? You can usually tell from that kind of body language that they are covering up. Now notice your own body language when you talk to co-workers. You just might be surprised at your own level of defensiveness.

Do disagreements quickly escalate? Do you find that a lot of conversations seem to spiral into a fight? One simple strategy I've found is to offer to buy someone a cup of coffee. It's amazing how a few bucks and a change of scenery can get you both on the same wavelength.

Do you fail to validate the other person? People like to be acknowledged. Whether it's a new haircut, a great presentation or a promotion -- take note of others, and chances are they'll take note of you.

Is there stonewalling? I'm a big believer in TMI. Always make it clear that you're willing to give people too much information. I realize that TMI can be annoying, but it's clearly superior to the alternative of stonewalling.

Follow these tips and a lot less people will be shot at work. And they're a lot cheaper than a Kevlar vest.

We'd like to hear your strategy for improving the climate where you work. I'll give an autographed copy of "Working Wounded: Advice that adds insight to injury" (Warner, 2000) to the best submission. Send your entry, name and address via: or via e-mail: Entries must be received by Wednesday, Oct. 11.

Online Ballot and Contest

Here are the results from a recent online ballot:

Working Wounded/ online ballot question: How able are you to sum up your career in 30 seconds?

  • I can't even clear my throat in less than a minute, 15.1 percent
  • Only if the situation is right, 27.1 percent
  • I do it all the time, 57.7 percent

Winning Strategy

Our winning strategy for dealing with a lost customer comes from R.C. in Tacoma, Wash.:

"The key is to not make them feel any pressure. I psych myself out that I'm going to mine them for information so that we don't lose any more customers and not try to make it appear that I'm just trying to manipulate them so that I'll get their business back. But it's funny, often that is the result. It's amazing how people can change their tune when they just feel appreciated."

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