Introducing Guest Blogger Judy Kiar:
Judy Kiar is an Ottawa therapist with over thirty years experience who, for the past fifteen years, has been serving individuals, couples and families through her private practice, Judy Kiar Counselling.
Judy’s guiding philosophy is so in step with mine that I only have to change two words of it to make it reflect my work specifically (my replacement words are in green):
“Life/Work is a complicated endeavour full of challenges as well as joys. It is a sign of good mental/professional health to recognize when things aren’t going well and to seek help to improve them.”
In her practice, Judy has seen the terribly destructive consequences that a dysfunctional workplace relationship can have on someone’s life. I hope you appreciate what she has to say; I know I do.
Have a good read and I wish you an enjoyable and productive day.
The Workplace Relationship Dance
by Judy Kiar
Relationships come with most workplaces. Most of the time we don’t get to choose whom we work with. We end up spending more waking hours with some colleagues than with our families and friends. Many times these relationships are governed by the hierarchical structure of the work place. Sometimes they are affected by competition for advancement. It’s inevitable that irritations or conflicts will arise from time to time. Because our work-lives are crucial to our financial and professional success, problems within them can feel life threatening. It’s important to minimize interpersonal conflict and learn to maintain healthy working relationships.
It seems to be human nature to want to blame the other person and wish they would be more like us. The truth though, is that you cannot change another person. You may be able to influence or encourage them, but ultimately, the only person you can change or control is you. Ironically, you are probably the most powerful tool you have in improving your relationships with other people.
Some of the best books written on building healthy interpersonal relationships, in my opinion, are Harriet Lerner’s Dance of Intimacy and Dance of Anger. Lerner conceptualizes relationship interactions as dances. We get into habits of acting and reacting in certain ways with each other. Some of these work well and some don’t. Often we get caught up in the dance and don’t really break it down to figure out all the steps that are making it turn out the way it is.
In the work place, we can become very aware of what other people are doing or not doing. If we are not happy with the way another person acts its easy to re-act in ways that show our disapproval, without actually communicating the problem to the other person. Shooting dagger-glances at a colleague, who has a habit of whistling while he works, just sets in motion a non-verbal communication, which might have no basis in reality. Whistler whistles, you glare, whistler assumes you don’t like him and glares back, this confirms your negative view of him and his of you. Before you know it you are no longer greeting each other in the hallways. You spend time and energy complaining about each other with coworkers and friends. The workplace has become toxic and our stress levels are through the roof!
The first step is to look at the dance as a whole and then break it down into its steps. Look at what you did and what the other person did. Think about how you felt along the way. What motivated you to act the way you did? Were you taking things personally that perhaps were not about you? Try to imagine what message you were sending with your actions. Ask yourself if you feel good about your part in the dance. Could you have been more direct, more empathetic, or more reasonable? Were there other things you could have done? Did other factors or feelings influence your behaviour?
The next step is to think about how you would prefer the interaction to go. You may feel overly responsible or overly criticized. What could you do to get that balance more in line with how you want to feel? What might happen if you look after your own feelings in the dance and change a few of your own, automatic steps?
Try not to take things personally. If there is something you can ask the other person to change, then ask in a polite, straightforward and respectful way. If you just don’t like them, try to cultivate an attitude of acceptance. Don’t make assumptions about them and don’t harbor grudges. Don’t waste energy dwelling on what you don’t like. Be on the look out for things that you do. You want to cultivate a live-and-let-live attitude wherever possible. The more you act in a positive, professional and friendly manner the more likely it is that you will be repaid in kind.
Sometimes, people are really resistive to change and will try really hard to get you to go back to an old familiar dance – even if it does not serve them well. If you hold firm and resist the urge to get back into those old steps, you are almost guaranteed to change the whole dance – one way or another. You have that power.
Get in the habit of looking at your own steps in all your relationships and see where you might like to try some new moves. Nobody gets a new dance right the first time. It’s going to take practice. Being good dance partners means being in-tune with each other and responding appropriately. Try to remember that perfecting the moves together is the only way to stop getting your toes stepped on when doing the workplace relationship dance.