You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your coworkers. No matter your job, you’ll likely be placed in situations that involve having to get along with groups full of wildly different personality types and approaches to problem-solving. Like it or not, these are the people you spend eight hours of your day with, so it’s essential to learn how to get along with each other.
Today’s workforce is more diverse than ever featuring employees of all ages, cultural backgrounds, and approaches to problem-solving. While you don’t have to be joined-at-the-hip with your entire office, keeping relationships friendly and professional will allow you to work better together and make going to your job each day feel like much less of a chore.
Here are some strategies that’ll help you all work together better. Who knows, you might even learn something new from the experience.
1. Ask questions
One of the greatest causes of workplace conflict comes from people’s lack of willingness to admit when they don’t understand something. If you’re an old-school employee struggling to adapt to a new messaging system in an office full of digitally-savvy Gen Xers, or a new intern wondering how to formerly address upper management, your coworkers are your best resources. When someone offers you advice, take it as them trying to help and make your work experience better rather than condescend or one-up you.
Most people love the chance to talk about themselves or explain a topic they’re an expert in. While it’s best to steer clear of grilling someone you work with on their personal life, try asking your colleague about positive topics like their kickboxing hobby or their kid’s latest recital. You’ll instantly break the ice and show yourself as engaged and considerate of others lives and interests.
Especially with colleagues from international backgrounds, getting to know people on a deeper level is an excellent opportunity to educate yourself and get introduced to customs and traditions you may have not ever known existed.
2. Focus on common goals
Instead of getting caught up in all the way you and your coworker are different, shift your focus to the main thing you have in common: your job. Even if you’re not all in the same department or hold the same level of seniority, the sheer fact that you both work for the same company unites you under a greater interest.
Far too many people especially when they’re under a lot of stress from their own work, start to feel that they’re the only one in the office who actually “does anything.” They imagine the rest of their team as lazy slackers. Instead of getting resentful, ask your coworkers about their current projects and really listen to them when they share what they’ve been working on. They’ve probably got a lot more on their plate than you’d guess!
No matter your personal backgrounds, you’re all on the same team in your professional lives and should want to see each other succeed.
3. Don’t assume the worst
People are sensitive, especially when it comes to their professional performance. While your first instinct after a negative performance review or harsh piece of feedback may be to dwell that “your boss hates you” or “everyone here thinks you’re incompetent” try to reframe critiques less as punishments and more as suggestions.
It’s far more likely that a person pointing out your mistake wants to bring it to your attention so that you can improve. They’re not actively trying to insult or embarrass you.
If a coworker doesn’t reply to your email, don’t immediately assume that they’re ignoring your request or think that the issue isn’t worth their time. Send a follow-up to check-in or swing by their desk rather than stew silently and prevent any progress. Instead of taking every comment as a personal attack, try to figure out the reason for your coworkers behavior first.
After internally examining the issue, you still feel like you need to speak with them directly, make sure to structure the conversation around “I” statements rather than jumping in with accusations.
4. Communicate and clarify
When friction does arise in your office, make sure you’re in a clear and calm headspace before you open your mouth to avoid blowing up and escalating the situation into a full-blown feud. If your manager makes a demand you think is unreasonable or another colleague interrupts you in the middle of the Friday meeting, take a deep breath, and wait at least an hour or two before bringing up the issue with them. (Maybe even sleep on it.)
And if you feel like you’re the one who screwed up and possibly offended a coworker, ask. It’s much easier to apologize for accidentally offending someone than it is to let them feel like their hurt feelings are going ignored.
5. Seek out new perspectives
Creativity is born from collaboration. Working in an office where people aren’t clones of each other should be viewed as a huge advantage instead of a source of stress. Colleagues whose career paths followed completely different structures than your own or have been in an industry for many more years than you have will hold much more unique perspectives on how to tackle certain things and will often be able to guide you to a solution you would have never found on your own.