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The Ultimate Guide to Building Strong Workplace Relationships

Positive workplace relationships are key elements to a healthy company, especially if you rely on teamwork to get through the workload. Nevertheless, that also means that you need to make certain that everyone gets along nicely. No matter whether you’re the CEO or just a fresh employee, getting along well with everyone is important. In fact, it should be one of your key goals!

However, not everybody has the necessary people skills to get him or her through the workweek. This often leads to social awkwardness and work-anxiety.

To make sure that you take charge of your social situation at work and improve your communicative abilities, we\’ve prepared an exhaustive guide to building strong workplace relationships. So find a comfortable seat and enjoy our in-depth manual to great workplace relationships.


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The Importance of Good Workplace Relationships

Defining Workplace Relationships
Same-Level Work Relationships
Different-Level Work Relationships

Building Positive Work Relationships
Emotional Intelligence and its Contribution to Workplace  Relationships
Developing Your People Skills
Appreciation and Constructive Criticism
Practising Common Courtesy
Learning to Communicate Effectively
How to Deal with Office Politics

Managing Difficult Workplace Relationships

Romantic Workplace Relationships


The Importance of Good Workplace Relationships

It may be convenient to ignore workplace relationships altogether. In fact, far too many employees choose to neglect this all-too-important issue. It’s super easy to just not care: you get to work, you begin working, you go to lunch, you go back to work, and then go home. This routine may work for a while. You may tell yourself that you don’t need the friendship of your officemates, that you already have enough good friends, or that you don’t like your work colleagues.

However, when it comes down to it, you’ll realise one or more of the following:

  • Work is more tolerable and can get very enjoyable when you have nice people around.
  • A few extra friends in the office may turn out to be very important, and not just work-wise.
  • You may have more in common than you think with the people you work with.

The issue of positive workplace relationships also boils down to the types of employees that a company hires. A professional recruiter can always offer relevant information about a candidate’s social skills, attitude towards work, and interaction with colleagues at previous companies.


Moreover, there’s a whole list of reasons as to why keeping workplace relationships optimistic, positive, and generally cheerful is a good thing for the company. As an employee trying to build healthy relationships with your colleagues, here’s how you’ll benefit:

  • More trust. First of all, you’ll not only gain more trust from your colleagues, you’ll also be able to return that trust more often. Good rapport between colleagues can lead to astounding achievements.
  • Discover each other. Through promoting good will and friendliness with your colleagues, you’ll undoubtedly end up knowing more about them, their strengths, and their preferred work tasks. This can go a long way when you need to hand out assignments.
  • Conflict avoidance. Workplace conflicts often arise from misunderstandings and misinterpretations. These both can be avoided if the two colleagues know each other well. The bottom line is that it’s far easier to build positive workplace relationships than it is to undo the damage caused by a work-related fight.
  • Motivation blooms. Several studies have shown that money isn’t the key to happiness. A productive, good-willed workplace environment can be equally, if not more important. When everyone in the office is getting along well, workflows flourish, deadlines get met, and everyone is satisfied.
  • Understand subtlety. Remember that even constructive criticism has to be delivered properly. Some workers appreciate a direct approach while others may be too sensitive. A subtle hint or a considerate conversation can go a long way, both for the employer and the employee.
  • Understand your colleagues. This is particularly useful for project managers that want to know the emotional nature of their work colleagues. Building a positive work relationship is a key element in becoming a successful project coordinator.
  • Become a good listener. Often times workmates are really talkative. Don’t take this as an annoyance but as a chance to get to know them better. Everyone has things they like to talk or complain about. Empathy is key here.
  • Become an efficient talker. Those who foster good work relationship building will know when they need to talk and when they don’t when they need to stop talking. You will also understand how and when to give advice to your fellow office mates or to your underlings.

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Defining Workplace Relationships

Like it or not, different positions in the company equate to different types of workplace relationships. Someone that may have been on the same level as you at one point may climb the hierarchical ladder, thus changing the nature of your relationship. It’s only natural and you should not see it as hostility, especially when that person becomes your superior.

That being said, we can split workplace relationships into two categories: office relationships between co-workers on the same level, and office relationships between people on different positions on the corporate ladder. Let’s look at each of these separately!


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Same-Level Work Relationships

Same-level work relationships exist between two or more co-workers that are on the same level of the corporate ladder. Generally, these tend to develop into workplace friendships and are often the most successful and authentic of co-worker interactions. However, that does not necessarily make them the most sincere. The smart employee will know how engage in productive work relationships all the while steering away from the bad things that generally come into play.

Same-level employees tend to talk about all kinds of things, particularly if they all work within the same area of the office. From work-related issues to books, music, last night’s Game of Thrones episode, or the weather, these people run the risk of actually becoming too friendly with each other (depending on the employer and the type of job they’re doing, they can choose to step in when appropriate).

The biggest risk with same level employees, particularly fresh employees, bears one name: banter. Small talk can quickly devolve into sharp-tongued gossip, which, needless to say, can damage workspace relationships severely. More about how to prevent or how to avoid gossiping in the latter part of this guide.

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Different-Level Work Relationships

Coming on now to different-level work relationships, it’s probably safe to say that we’re dealing with something completely different. There are several types of different-level work relationships, which we will try to split accordingly:

  • Project Management – Subordinate – This type of work relationship comes into play between two consecutive steps on the corporate ladder. The small boss has to watch over his subordinates. This may bring about a certain animosity of the subordinate towards his or her supervisor. This needs to be corrected through the promotion of good work ethics, friendly dialogue, and good project coordination. The project manager must be friendly but decisive, understanding yet critical, constructively and objectively reviewing his or her subaltern’s work, while keeping a friendly tone. In non-formal meetings, the small boss must drop the work-focused façade and be as friendly as appropriate.
  • Upper Management – Subordinate – Moving up the corporate ladder, when two or more positions are between the employees that come into contact, the relationships tend to get complicated. There are three principles that both the manager and the subordinate must abide by professionalism, goodwill, and common courtesy. The employees need to find common ground before they can move forward. This occasion to connect can come from anything – either work related or not.
  • CEO – Subordinate – If you thought dealing with upper management is a difficult task, how about going up to the big boss? Often times, though, employees look at the CEO as a model for how they themselves handle workplace relationships. If the CEO is friendly and good-willed, the employees will more often than not follow his or her example. If the CEO is uninviting, relationship building within the office will end up suffering a great deal. The CEO must also follow the three principles presented above, especially when dealing with fresh employees.

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Building Positive Work Relationships

Now that we’ve seen the basics of workplace relations, it’s high time we discussed how to implement them efficiently. The process of building positive work relationships needs to go through some very simple steps. However, it’s not too often that co-workers take the time to sit down with each—other and build adequate working relationships.

What usually happens is that employees go with the flow and forget about the subtleties that workplace relationships involve. An odd smirk, a strange remark, and speaking before one thinks can lead to disastrous results. Therefore, you should take into account all of the following points if you want the social aspect of your workspace to work.

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Emotional Intelligence and its Contribution to Workplace Relationships

Emotional intelligence, measured through the emotional quotient, is a key concept that often comes into play when dealing with workplace relationships. However, much like the IQ of a person, the EQ can change over time depending on education and self-improvement. Our advice is to take an online emotional intelligence test (they’re available all over the web) and then focus on improving whatever part of your EI that you score the lowest in.

Not convinced emotional intelligence has a role to play in work relationships? Here are some tips that may change your mind:

  • Improved Self-Awareness. If an employee is strong in self-awareness, he or she will take more lightly to constructive criticism. That’s because their tendency is to look in the mirror more often than most.
  • Better Self-Management. This should come as obvious, but employees that have better self-regulation skills know how to control their emotions. No matter what disturbs them, they stick to their principles and never stoop to lowly behaviour.
  • Improved Motivation. The employees that have high EI are more motivated to do their work. It’s been proven time and again by studies from the most respected universities – if you’re emotionally intelligent, you’ll see work as a challenge and not as a chore.
  • Empathy Skills. It takes a lot of practice to genuinely be interested in other people’s problems and not immediately jump to your own problems. However, those that have a high EQ will have this all figured out.
  • Better Social Skills. Those that have a high EQ will have absolutely no problem being put in a group. Teamwork is not only a good idea for them, it’s what they prefer. Generally, people with high EQ climb up the corporate ladder easier than those who lack these very important social skills.

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Developing Your People Skills

It’s something that has constantly been mentioned ever since we began this guide to workplace relationships. However, it’s complicated to accurately define the concept of “people skills”. Generally, we would agree that it has to do with how a certain person deals with a variety of social situations. The bigger question is: can people skills be improved?

We believe they can. Here are a few methods by which you can learn to be more considerate of the people around your workspace:

  • Look at others. The first step is to stop for a moment each day to observe how others around you act. Single out those that interest you the most and objectively watch how they deal with people.
  • Look at your peers. The second step would be to look at your leaders, managers, or bosses. The people that you look up to should guide you to a new self-awareness. You will be able to judge yourself by using those around you as a social compass.
  • Look at yourself. It may be that you’re the perfect social employee. If you are, then you should have no problems dealing with the uncanny when it comes to the people around you. Still, only decide upon this issue after thorough examination of your workplace relationships and behaviour.
  • Act on what you notice. Do you see something about yourself that you don’t like or think you’d better change? Make a mental trigger for yourself where you try to train yourself towards changing your behaviour.
  • Try to change. Depending on how strong-willed you are, you may manage miracles. Be warned, though, changing the nature of your workplace relationships is tricky and requires a whole lot of hard work and emotional strain. If you think you’re ready, use the tips above to get you on track.


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Appreciation and Constructive Criticism

Showing appreciation and providing constructive criticism to your employees is a key process in a healthy company. However, the way someone chooses to go about this can end up making the world of a difference. To secure these productive workplace relationships, be sure to do the following:

  • Be nice. First of all, never treat your subordinates like a boss. Try not to be the boss, but the manager. What’s the difference? The boss is the person whom you are obliged to obey. The manager is the one who looks over your work and applauds you on your successes and only then proceeds to offer criticism.
  • Communicate. If people don’t communicate enough in a company, the end result can be unpleasant for everyone. Use all the means of communication that your business puts at your disposal. Emails are good for reminders and for sending files. Phone calls are amazing for facilitating good criticism. Instant messaging is perfect for relaying tasks. Furthermore, if your colleague is next-door, it won’t hurt to get up and go to them.
  • Work hours. Contacting someone outside work hours is only acceptable on emergencies. If your company uses a dedicated IM service, leave the messages there. They will see them when they get to work the next day. Furthermore, don’t assume that it’s okay to contact them if you are doing overtime.
  • Provide a list of FAQs. In most companies, there has to be some sort of company rulebook that your subordinates can refer to before asking his or her coordinator. You should do that and your employees should do that.
  • Treat all your subordinates well. Never favour some over others – it’s bad manners and oftentimes viewed as offensive by some.
  • Never gossip about your boss. No matter how much you dislike his or her policies, never complain about them to your interns. It will lead them to think gossip, blather, and banter are okay as long as it’s about the boss. It’s not.

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Practising Common Courtesy

Practising common courtesy is very simple. It basically implies that you follow the basic guidelines when working with people. Use this list of tips so that you promote good workplace relationships:

  • Be authentic. It’s paramount that you exhibit a relaxed, natural behaviour. Never be false when talking to co-workers.
  • Greet everyone. Greeting your co-workers is a sign of courtesy and it goes a long way. Whenever possible, say hello to your co-workers when arriving at work. Of course, in large companies, saying hello to your team or division will be sufficient.
  • Don’t expect to be greeted. If someone hasn’t said hello or goodbye, don’t assume it’s personal. That’s just the kind of thing that can damage workspace relations irremediably. Maybe they’re just busy, maybe they had to hurry somewhere, or maybe they’ve had bad traffic on the way to work.
  • Be polite. Ask your officemates before putting on background music. Do the same when opening the window, turning on the heat, the air-conditioner, or the lights. We know that these things bore, but they can make a difference.
  • Don’ts – There are certain workplace don’ts that you need to always remember. Never reply to all unless specified. Never microwave fish. Never leave the toilet seat up. Never leave your dirty dishes in the sink.

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Learning to Communicate Effectively

Another vital step in securing positive workplace relationships is to learn how to express the task at hand to your co-workers. You need to make sure that:

  • They understand what the company needs to do.
  • They understand what they need to do.
  • They understand the deadline.
  • They understand the duties and responsibilities of all those involved.

Every project has its pros and cons. Explain these clearly. When you’re in a management position, try to highlight how the respective job will enhance the abilities of your employees and possibly allow them to take on more difficult tasks in the future. They will appreciate you looking out for their future.


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How to Deal with Office Politics

Everyone in the office has to deal with office politics, whether they like it or not and whether they know it or not. Forget the company chart, here’s how what you have to do in order to survive in this overly competitive market.

  • Work out the hierarchy. More often than not, there are certain key players within a company who hold more influence than the organisational chart suggests. Similarly, there are people whose experience is a key asset in the inner-workings of the division. There are people who are respected for their work. There are also people who behave like mentors. Finally, there’s always that person, either the CEO or someone on the board of directors, which is the head of operations. Be aware of these positions, identify influencers, and behave accordingly.
  • Understand the informal network. Office social networks are tricky to understand, but they do offer a lot of insight into how informal power is used. Are there cliques or striking friendships that go beyond just a colleague-colleague relationship? Work out the basis of interrelationship, identify interpersonal conflicts, and see how this behaviour affects the flow between parties.
  • Don’t fear people of influence. After you’ve established who runs the trail of influence, try to be friendly around them. Never fear to speak our but do so cleverly and base your viewpoint on clear arguments. Maybe you can find some other colleagues that empathize.
  • Mind the true corporate structure. Even if the CEO is not the most influent person in the office, that doesn\’t mean you should treat him or her with less respect than you would others. Keep in mind all the advice we’ve given here earlier.

One major disadvantage of office politics is that they often result in inhumane, inauthentic behaviour, or false friendships. However, if you work towards building and fostering relationships even with those who carry informal power, and make the most out of the network, you will certainly learn to gracefully manoeuvre office politics.

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Managing Difficult Workplace Relationships

Even if you do follow all the advice we’ve given up to now, there’s surely going to be situations where you don’t have an ideal relationship with a particular co-worker. Of course, there are things you can do to manage such a difficult workplace relationship:

  • Avoid working together. There’s nothing wrong in admitting your own faults. If the relationship with a specific person in the office doesn’t go as you would want it to, it would be best for the company as a whole that you avoid that person.
  • Be professional. Still, there are cases when you will have to deal with that specific person. Difficult workplace relationships can be mitigated through professionalism and focusing on the task at hand.
  • Try to get to know them. The first step would be to just make small chat. If that doesn’t work, try talking about your project. If that doesn’t work, try to find some other common ground such as a book, movie, or TV series. Anything that can make you talk is worth it.
  • Deal with the bully. Apart from the tips above, you should also know how to deal with specific type of workplace personalities. There certainly are aggressive co-workers you need to deal with (the equivalent of a school bully). Most often, they are the ones who yell, offer criticism in a demeaning manner, or display a superior (yet unmerited) attitude. The key is to be courteous at all times. Moreover, make sure that you are always attentive at what you say in their vicinity. If you’re attentive and identify their goals, you can steer clear of the impact of their negative behaviour.
  • Deal with negativism. We’ve all seen a co-worker who seems to be upset about every single thing in the office. They don’t like the work, they don’t like the boss, they hate their clients, and they’d always rather be at home sleeping. Dealing with this type of worker is simple: avoid him (or her). If that’s not possible, try to say a positive thing for every negative thing that they say.


  • Deal with the boss. About 80% of workplace bullies are bosses. Yet the majority of an employee’s tasks are handed out by their direct superior. Practise patience, ask for feedback whenever possible, and reinforce your boss’ sense of value. Remember that most bosses have massive egos. If you ask for suggestions or recommendations, you’ll be effectively validating their sense of self-worth and improving how they perceive you as a worker. If things work out, then you’ve turned that workplace relationship around.
  • Deal with the gossiper. Gossip is a double edged sword. One part is natural, the other one bore a deep cut into the company. Generally, gossip is okay when it doesn’t hurt other people’s feelings, when it doesn’t influence productivity, and when it doesn’t damage workplace relationships. Also, hate-speaking against one’s boss is often very subjective – always assess for yourself how someone is in your workplace. Don’t rely on others’ opinions.
  • Avoid being the boss. If you yourself are the manager of a project, it’s best to avoid being dubbed boss. Sure, your employees may name you so as a joke, but what you actually are is a project coordinator. And as a project coordinator, you sometimes have to make tough choices. Do so elegantly, communicate lay-offs in an empathetic manner, and offer arguments for decisions that aren’t easily understood by employees.

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Romantic Workplace Relationships

It’s an inevitable subject when dealing with workplace relationships. There are four types of romantic workplace relationships which all imply different levels of ethics:

  • Open lateral workplace romances. Probably the most honest of relationships, this one means that the two people involved are on the same level of the company ladder when they begin their relationship. It also means that the two people are open about it and that everyone in the office knows.
  • Closed lateral workplace romances. Closed lateral workplace relationships also imply that the two persons are on the same level, yet this time they choose to be secretive about it and not let everyone notice they’re together.
  • Open hierarchical workplace romances. Also fairly honest, this type of work relation involves two people who are one above the other on the ladder. This is usually frowned upon by management since subjectivity is very likely to appear, meaning the manager will favour his or her love interest over their colleagues.
  • Closed hierarchical workplace romances. The most ethically problematic of workplace romances, this one implies a manager and their direct subordinate being engaged in a secret romantic relationship.

Dealing with workplace relationships can be difficult. As a manager you should instil a set of rules so that:

  • the couple never bring domestic quarrels to work.
  • they remain open about their relationship.
  • they don’t favour each other over their co-workers.


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We hope that this comprehensive review to building positive workplace relationships has been of use! The fact is that the workspace can be a daily adventure to manage, especially when it’s riddled with difficult work relations, gossipers, bullies, and pools of negativity.

The best advice we can give to fresh employees that start on Monday is to go to work pressure-free. Simply open your mind to everyone you meet and try to overcome your bias. A good work ethic needs great workplace relationships. Keeping positive will benefit you, your officemates, and the company as a whole!

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