When you work in close quarters with other people for 40+ hours per week, there’s bound to be tension at some point. From misunderstanding each other’s motivations to acting out during stressful circumstances, interactions may occasionally reach such a pitch that you’re forced to confront the issue head-on.
It can be uncomfortable enough when the offending party is a colleague. But, what if the person that’s grinding your gears is your boss?
It brings a whole new dimension to the problem when the person who you just can’t seem to see eye-to-eye with is the person to whom you directly report. After all, aside from the inherent power differential, that person also likely has quite a bit of influence over your ultimate ability to be successful in your job.
Boss/employee relationships are a delicate balancing act at the best of times, with both parties having to flex their diplomatic muscles when the pressure is really on at work. When nurtured and based on respect and understanding, they can produce a happy and harmonious working environment that boosts productivity. However, if this balance is upset, the ripple effect of any discord can be felt throughout the entire office.
Whatever has sparked an issue between the two of you, it is imperative that you take steps to remedy the situation as soon as possible. The longer any underlying problems are allowed to fester, the harder it will be to resolve them. In turn, this could lead to decreased job satisfaction, and perhaps even a letter of resignation when you feel that you simply can’t go on working in such a toxic environment.
If this sounds familiar, here is a guide on how to approach the issue, so that you can regain that all-important balance of respect and understanding.
Self-reflection is key
The best place to start when addressing any rifts between you and your boss is with yourself. This is the area over which you have the most control. So, although it’s often not an easy thing to do, you need to hold a mirror up to yourself to consider some of the following questions:
How well are you performing in your role?
Are you engaged in what you’re doing? What is your attitude like?
Do other people have issues with your boss? Or, is it just you?
Have you gotten prior feedback from your boss? Have you tried to apply it consistently?
When we’re having interpersonal issues with other people, we often quick to point the finger and judge their behaviors negatively. On the flip side, when we reflect on our own actions, we are often much more forgiving. We might judge ourselves by our intentions, or make excuses for our actions. As a result, we can overlook how we might be contributing to the problems.
We have the power to control our own thought processes and actions towards people, so answer the above questions honestly and think about others who get along well with your boss. Do they interact differently? How do you perceive their attitude towards your boss? Are there behaviors that you could emulate to start and smooth things over?
If you’re not sure, it can also be helpful to talk to others who have more positive relationships with your boss for their feedback. How do they navigate the relationship? Do they have any thoughts about how you might be creating issues? Understanding yourself is critical for being emotionally intelligent. In turn, this will help you to have more fluidity in dealing effectively with a range of personalities.
Empathize with your boss
Although it might be hard to empathize with your boss when you’re experiencing interpersonal issues, it can be really helpful for improving the situation. Understanding that everyone has different motivations, and striving to understand them even if they don’t match your own can help reform your perception of that person, and therefore change your attitude towards them.
Consider what’s important to your boss? Is it important to him to stay well informed? Does she have a high sense of urgency? What values seem important to him?
For example, if your boss places a high level importance on accuracy, and you’re not attentive to detail, your boss might feel that she can’t trust you to produce quality work. Or, if your boss puts an emphasis on teamwork, and you’re highly self-reliant, then you might come across as not collaborative enough. As is the case in any relationship, if you put yourself in the other person’s shoes, you put yourself in a better position to relate to him or her effectively, and ensure that you’re doing your part to meet his or her psychological needs.
It can also be helpful to empathize with your boss as a person. For instance, once I heard one boss talk about the sense of responsibility he felt for making sure that the company kept people in a position for which they could pay for their mortgages and take care of their families. Hearing him talk about that shed new light on his focus on billing and productivity. This gave me a far better understanding of some of the stresses he was under, and how numbers meant more to him than just cash in the bank.
Open up a channel of communication
Once you’ve reflected on your role, and your boss’ potential point of view, have a conversation with him or her about how you can improve your working relationship. Make sure to ask plenty of questions and don’t assume you know how he or she is feeling.
Some questions you might want to ask during the conversation might include, how you can make his or her life easier? What does success look like in your role? What feedback would he or she give you? If he or she is willing to receive feedback, provide some suggestions (using “I” statements) that might be helpful for you.
These kinds of discussions can be helpful for getting issues out on the table in a constructive way. Just make sure to watch out for your triggers, use mindfulness techniques to calm down your body (even deep breathing will help), and guard against defensiveness.
Develop a plan to move forward
Change is critical to help restore a good working relationship with your boss, so think about how you can better meet your boss’ needs and make life easier.
Come up with at least three actions that you can start doing immediately and start to work them into your daily or weekly routine. This can include:
Focusing on your personal development – If your boss gave you any developmental feedback, make sure to work constructively to improve in those areas. For example, if your boss values teamwork, make an effort to get more involved with your colleagues and offer up any spare time you have to help them with their workload etc. Or, if accuracy is essential, look around for some proofreading software or spend an extra few moments checking your work before submitting it to your boss.
Attending to your level of engagement – If you’re feeling stressed or disengaged on the job, it’s likely that others will pick up on it. Make sure that you’re taking the appropriate steps so that you can regain a sense of meaning and satisfaction with the work you’re doing.
Staying communicative – Keeping communications channels open is key to resolving any issues in the long term, so even a quick hello by the water cooler from time to time can help keep things on civil terms and keep you both talking. You’ll also want to make sure to check in periodically to see how things are going between the two of you.
What happens when you’ve run out of options?
Sadly, the reality is in some cases that you could simply be working for a toxic boss.
Some company cultures put greater emphasis on their bottom lines than on their people, and this can often result in a toxic and harmful environment where staff turnover and absence rates are high. Although you might want to stay in this position short-term to gain experience or as a way to boost your resume, the impacts on your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing may lead you to discover that the position really isn’t worth it after all.
If you feel that you’ve tried everything to try to get along with your boss and have run out of options, don’t feel ashamed or disappointed that you want to move on to pastures new.
Ultimately, if you’ve done everything you can, this is a failure on your bosses’ part, and no job is worth damaging your health or happiness.
Whether it’s a holiday party, networking event, or conference happy hour, for many professionals, few things instill as much dread. Not only can they be draining, they can also be fraught with feelings of anxiety, discomfort, or self-consciousness.
Across the years I’ve coached numerous introverts who have a large social component to their jobs. For instance, one client, who I’ll call Keisha, was being groomed for a CEO role. Although she was smart, capable, and skilled at the technical parts of her job, she recognized that to be successful, she would need to become a lot more comfortable establishing and building relationships.
With that in mind, she recognized that a big part of the role to which she aspired would be to go to community events. So, she started to challenge herself by attending more of them. However, although she knew she was doing it for her development, Keisha still found herself dreading the events, and feeling self-conscious while she was there. She knew she would have to get over this to be able to accomplish her career goals, but how?
Do you find yourself feeling anxious when you have to socialize after work? If so, here are a few tips to help you conquer your fear of work social events.
1. Be Aware of How You’re Teeing Up the Event in Your Mind
For many people who dread social events, the discomfort can begin well before they’re in the room. In Keisha’s case, it often started the minute she put the event on her calendar. Immediately, she began focusing how “fake” people would be, how incompetent and awkward she was going to look, and how tired she would be at the end of the evening. With that kind of a lead-up, no wonder she never looked forward to going!
If you find yourself thinking only about what could go wrong at an upcoming event, make an effort to be more balanced in your assessment by also thinking about what could go right. Perhaps you could meet some interesting people. Maybe you’ll make a valuable connection. Perhaps you’ll improve your ability to connect by giving yourself some practice at the event. At the very least, maybe you’ll probably enjoy some good food! By looking on the bright side, you might find that you give yourself a few more reasons to look forward to those sorts of engagements.
2. Take Off the Pressure By Starting Small
Sometimes, people can dread going to social events because of the amount of pressure they put on themselves. In Keisha’s case, if she wasn’t a social butterfly who charmed everyone around her and left with a dozen business cards, she concluded that the event hadn’t been worth her time. With expectations that high, no wonder she felt like a failure every time she attended a work social engagement!
If you feel uncomfortable in these social situations, set small goals for yourself. Perhaps your first goal will be to actually go to the event, and stay for a certain period of time. Then, you could work your way up to talking to one person or exchanging one business card. Once you’ve done that, you could strive to talk to a few people, or to initiate a follow-up lunch. By making your goals a bit of a challenge but still achievable, you’ll be able to leave events feeling proud of yourself, and committed to stretching yourself a bit more the next time.
3. Recognize that You’re Probably More Likable Than You Think You Are
When contemplating whether or not to attend an event, Keisha frequently worried that people wouldn’t find her interesting or likable. Research suggests that she wasn’t alone. Many of us experience the “liking gap,” which is defined as underestimating how much others like us, or view us positively. In one research study, researchers found that people underestimated how much others liked them and enjoyed their company in a variety of settings (a brief conversation in a lab, getting to know a dorm roommate over several months, meeting with others in a workshop).
By recognizing that you’re likely a whole lot harder on yourself than others are, you will put yourself in a position to better challenge some of the negative self-talk and criticism that could be holding you back.
4. Plan in Advance
If you feel uncertain in social situations, then “winging it” will probably increase your anxiety. So, make sure to devise a plan in advance. Have some potential conversation starters ready, so that you’ll feel more comfortable getting the ball rolling. Read the news that day, for potential (uncontroversial) topics that you might talk about. Invite a more outgoing colleague, who might be able to initiate conversations (and be intentional about observing him or her to get some strategies for when you’re flying solo).
You might also want to read some books on connecting with others. Some suggestions to get you started include: The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane, and Presence by Amy Cuddy. My Executive Mindfulness Online Course will also give you strategies that you can use to manage any uncomfortable feelings or negative self-talk. The more prepared you are and the more tools and strategies you have to draw on in the moment, the more comfortable you’ll likely feel.
5. Be Curious
Instead of thinking of these social events as times when you need to put on a show and impress, take the pressure off by putting the focus on others. Be curious and ask questions to learn about the person with whom you are speaking. By showing a genuine interest, you’ll be able to keep the conversation rolling, and also determine points of commonality. Then, as you find those points in common, you’ll naturally build a stronger connection.
6. Give Yourself a Pat on the Back
When you leave the event, make sure to congratulate yourself. You did it! To celebrate, make a list of things that went well for you, no matter how small. Did you accomplish the goal you set for yourself? Did you actually enjoy yourself at any point during the event? Having a list to look back on can help you to get inspired the next time you’re overcome with a feeling of dread when thinking about attending an upcoming event.
Also, so you can use these events as an opportunity to learn and get better, make sure to note one or two things that you could work on next time. Could you come up with a few different openers? Could you take some deep breaths before you enter the event to calm yourself down? Could you talk to one more person next time? Make sure to do this in the spirit of wanting to grow, as opposed to being harsh and self-critical.
As for Keisha, she was shocked to find that across time, she conquered her fear of attending work social events. Once she took the pressure off and saw them as opportunities to get to know new people, she not only stopped dreading them, she actually started to look forward to them, and viewed them as a fun part of her job. Try out these tips, and eventually, you just might find that you feel the same way!
Need some additional strategies to help you to deal with social discomfort? Click here.
Most professionals intellectually understand the importance of building relationships at work. Leaders in the business world certainly do. Psychiatrist Srini Pillay, who studies the neuroscience of effective leadership, published an article which explained the importance of skillful communication for effective and inspiring leadership. On one hand, this reads as common sense; on another, it makes you realize how often leaders sacrifice relationship-building for other priorities at work.
At least that has been the case in my experience.
As someone who has coached hundreds of senior executives about management skills and beyond, I’ve found that too many regard relationship-building as fluff, a skill not necessarily related to measurable “success.”
Sure, most people understand the theoretical importance of nurturing professional relationships as they would friendships. But I’ve also seen a lot of professionals dismiss doing this as superfluous, luxurious—a time commitment that doesn’t lead to results. (Little do they possibly know, research has shown that there is an inextricable link between the quality and depth of one’s relationships with coworkers, and overall attitude toward one’s work.)
Additionally, most folks understand the importance of networking as an interpersonal skill, and try to be friendly on the job. But true connection is something different—and its positive effects in the workplace have a correspondingly deep impact, just as they would anywhere else. So how do you know if the relationships you’re pursuing at work are “real”?
The first and most important step is checking in with your motivations, requires a “gut check” by asking some difficult questions.
If you think you could benefit from improving your relationships at work, do your gut-check by considering these four questions.
1. How do I truly feel about my coworkers?
Do you view your coworkers as an annoyance? Does your monthly office happy hour feel like a social activity or a chore? Is getting lunch with colleagues a welcome break, or a distraction that gets in the way of the “real” work?
Different people feel differently about the value of building relationships with coworkers. While some people view it as an opportunity to broaden their network of friends, others see it as a wet blanket. Those in the latter camp may think work should be exclusively about getting stuff done, and that relationships should be reserved for personal time. If you find yourself resonating with this, you’ll need to shift your perspective in order to build the sorts of relationships that will enable you to inspire and engage others.
Remember: you are not working with robots. While we obviously can’t spend the whole day socializing, recognize that connections put us in a better mood, andbetter moodsare linked to better work outcomes.
2. What are my expectations when interacting with others?
All of us have individual histories, and they impact the expectations we carry with us in all facets of life, including the ways we think about interpersonal connection.
How do you expect others to treat you? Do you see the world as a “dog eat dog” place, where you have to be guarded to get ahead? Do you tend to be wary of others? Or is your most frequent state of being open? Trusting? Curious?
If you are someone who expects poor treatment from others, you are likely going to have your defenses up as you navigate the world. This sense of distance can interfere with your ability to build connections, and will be palpable to others.
By opening yourself up to others, you’ll likely be rewarded with higher quality relationships. Plus, as Wharton professor Adam Grant’sresearch has shown (with a few caveats), generous individuals end up ahead in the business world.
3. Do I see others at work as objects?
For some, the answer to this question might be a bit disconcerting, but I encourage you to be as truthful as you can be, knowing that these questions are just for your growth.
So do you see coworkers as a means to an end? Hurdles to deal with as you go ahead on your own path? Or do you see them as a living, breathing human beings with hopes, challenges, and dreams? Are they equal to you, worthy of respect and consideration?
Note that you may not find yourself willing to admit you regard others as objects. But this attitude can be more subtle than it sounds. If you are treating those around you as a mere part of the background, they will pick up on this. In contrast, the simple act of recognizing your shared humanity with others can make you more compassionate and present, and will deepen the quality of your interactions.
4. What are my values about relationships? Am I embodying them at work?
When most people reflect on their deepest held values, they believe in the importance of kindness, treating others with respect, and contributing to their well-being. Consider your values about how you should treat others.
Then pay attention to see whether you are fully living up to these values. When you try to bulldoze through others so that you can get your way, are you treating them with respect? If you dismiss someone else’s concerns as silly, are you exhibiting empathy? Simply paying attention can give you the heightened awareness necessary to modify your behavior.
While reflecting on these questions might result in some hard truths about yourself that you would rather not face, the fact is, they can be very empowering. Armed with the knowledge about why you may be struggling to connect with those around you, you can make important changes that will deepen your relationships and support your professional success.
Lately it seems like we’re hearing a lot about how stressed people are at work. According to the International Labor Organization, workers in developing and developed countries across the world are feeling increased strain in the workplace.
I also hear a lot about on-the-job stress when I’m coaching my clients. And, unfortunately, when they talk about it, they often express a sense of helplessness and resignation. Although they recognize that they should do something about it, they often feel that they can’t do anything about it. Sure, they would love to go to yoga classes, get massages, or go on extended vacations, but they just don’t see how they can make the time to focus on self-care.
Can you relate? Here’s Where to Start
The reality is, stress from the workplace can come from a number of different sources. So, instead of attempting a one-size-fits-all approach to cope with it,begin by conducting a stress inventory. To do this, simply create an exhaustive (no pun intended) list of all of the things about your work that stress you out.
Then, beside each stressor, write down as many ideas as you can think of that could help you to deal with it. Don’t worry if you can’t do anything about some of them immediately (e.g. an irregular work schedule or lengthy commute). By attending to the stressors that you can address, you’ll be empowering yourself to take a stand for your well-being.
Need some help coming up with your list of stressors? Here are some of the common culprits, along with some ideas about what to do about them.
1. Heavy Workload
If you’re like many professionals, your main stressor is the sheer amount of work that you have to do. Between meetings, emails, projects, and other demands, it can feel like you’re swimming upstream to keep up with it all.
If you can relate to this, start by paying attention to how you use your time. Are you really managing it as effectively as you could?
When I ask them to track how they’re using their time, many of my clients are shocked to discover that they’re not actually as efficient as they think they are. In fact, one of the biggest threats to their productivity is their habit of constantly interrupting themselves to multi-task.
Here’s a common scenario: You start writing a report. A few minutes in, you notice an email notification. So, you open it, and begin responding. Mid-email, you remember that you need to pick up bananas at the grocery store, so you open your task list app to make a note of it. While you’re on your phone, you notice a text from your best friend. After finding the appropriate witty GIF to reply, you go back to your report.
Sound familiar at all?
Admittedly, some interruptions are unavoidable. However, by tightening up how you approach your work and how you manage your time, you can enhance your efficiency and get more done. So, develop your time management skills and, if you’re in a position in which you can do so, make sure you’re delegating enough, so that you can further manage your workload.
When you manage your time well, you’ll get your work done in less time. And, when you feel less overwhelmed, your stress level will decrease.
2. Conflict with Co-Workers
If, like most of us, you’re in a job in which you work with other people, you have plenty of opportunities for interpersonal conflict. Whether it’s a critical boss, a dismissive colleague, or peers who make unreasonable last minute demands, your relationships can easily contribute to your stress level.
If you’re someone who hates conflict, you might choose to stay silent about your concerns. However, while this may keep things calm on the surface, on the inside, you may be silently seething with resentment, gritting your teeth, and allowing your stress to eat away at you. A better solution? Commit to learning how to manage conflict and be appropriately assertive. Then, aim to have constructive conversations with the people around you. After all, if you’re not speaking up about your concerns, others may have no idea about what’s going on with you.
If, on the other hand, you’re someone who comes across as argumentative or aggressive, it’s possible that your style may be contributing to your interpersonal difficulties. To upgrade your interactions, develop your emotional intelligence, work on becoming a better listener, and place more of an emphasis on connecting with others. Your improved relationships will not only lessen your stress level, they’ll likely also make you a more effective worker.
3. Your Values Are a Mismatch to Your Company’s Values
You’re competitive and ambitious, but your department is all about collaboration. Or, perhaps you’re motivated by the impact your actions have on society, but your organization is primarily focused on financial gain. If your values are in conflict with the culture of your workplace, you could be fighting an uphill battle.
If you find yourself experiencing this sort of mismatch, start by brainstorming ways to exercise more of your values in the workplace. For example, if giving back is important to you, see if you can get a group of people together to engage in volunteer work. Or, if connecting with others is one of your core values, be intentional about socializing with your colleagues. These sorts of actions can help you to bring a sense of meaning back to your job, and might lessen your stress levels.
However, keep in mind that research shows that if there is too much of a misalignment between your personal values and that of your organization, your risk for burnout increases. Therefore, if there’s too much of a mismatch, you might want to look for work at an organization that’s a better cultural fit for you.
4. You Don’t Have Enough Autonomy
Studies have shown that a lack of autonomy, or not having control over decisions that affect your job, is a leading source of work stress that can affect everything from your job satisfaction to your health. If you feel that you have inadequate autonomy in your job, consider talking your boss about ways that you might be able to have more say at work.
Perhaps you could lead an initiative that’s of interest to you. Perhaps you could influence changes in processes that affect your day-to-day work. Or, perhaps you could talk your boss into allowing you to telecommute every so often. While you’ll obviously need to take the nature of your job into account, there are likely ways that you can have more influence over your work environment. And, with a greater sense of control, your sense of well-being may just increase.
5. You Don’t Give Yourself a Chance to Disconnect
Many clients that I work with talk about how email and mobile devices are a double-edged sword. On one hand, they give you more flexibility so that, theoretically, you can work wherever and whenever you want. However, because you’re always accessible, your employer may have higher expectations about how available you should be at all times. As a result, digital devices can become a major stressor that can interfere with your ability to disconnect and recharge outside of work.
Although there are some fields in which you may need to be on-call at all times, for most of us, that isn’t a necessity. Therefore, if you are stressed out by being available around the clock, experiment by setting some limits for yourself. Commit to stop checking work emails after a certain time each day. Don’t sleep with your phone next to your bed. Consider having a conversation with your boss about expectations for responding after hours.
By taking steps to allow yourself to disconnect fully, you’ll likely feel greater autonomy. In turn, this will help you to manage your stress.
6. Your Mindset Contributes to Your Stress
Have you ever noticed how people’s reactions to seemingly stressful situations differ? For example, while one person may feel overwhelmed by work responsibilities, his colleague is able to take it in stride. What’s the difference? It may just have to do with perspective.
In one study, when researchers told participants to think of stress arousal as something that could maximize their performance, they felt more confident and less anxious in pressure-packed situations. In addition, the study participants didn’t experience typical negative physiological reactions in response to stress.
By focusing on how stressful situations may actually help you to grow, you can channel your thoughts in constructive ways. And, if that sounds like too much of a tall order, then developing a mindfulness practice might help you. As you become more mindful, you’ll find that you’ll become more aware of the thoughts that may be contributing to your stress. And, with that awareness, you’ll put yourself in a better position to take a step back, reappraise the situation, and decrease your negative reactions.
Finally, as you’re doing what you can to deal with stressors in the workplace, don’t forget to focus on self-care. Exercise. Eat a balanced diet. Get adequate sleep. Meditate. Treat yourself with compassion. Recognize that self-care isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity for a well-balanced life. So, give yourself full permission to recharge when you need to do so. You’ll not only better manage your stress, you’ll become more productive in the long-run.
Need additional help managing your work stress? Click here.
Lately, a variety of big companies have been dominating the news cycle for the wrong reasons. Reports of toxic culture, executive firings, sexual harassment allegations, unscrupulous sales practices and other negative stories paint the picture of many organizations whose values are more focused on the bottom line than their people.
It’s obvious that working in such an environment would be unpleasant, but research shows that the effects of working in a problematic corporate culture can actually cause significant harm. In fact, working in a toxic organizational culture can have a negative impact on your overall well-being—and even your health.
Here are three potential aspects of your culture that could be harming you.
1. Your coworkers—and your relationships with them
Research has shown that your boss and co-workers can influence your health in a number of ways. For example,one study suggests that being the target of workplace bullying is linked to higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Thanks to hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, boosted levels of stress, anxiety and depression can lead to chronic inflammatory diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, among others. Most of us know that keeping stress in check is the key to maintaining good health—and navigating relationships at work with your own well-being in mind is a key thing to keep in mind.
Another studyshowed higher degrees of emotional exhaustion among employees of abusive supervisors. Again: this isn’t surprising—but it’s an important opportunity for us all to consider the dynamics we experience with our supervisors at work. Do we feel respected and considered? Or do we feel denigrated and taken advantage of? Emotional abuse includes a vast array of behaviors, and many of them can manifest themselves in subtle, but insidious ways.
While the effects of an abusive boss might be easier to recognize, research has also shown that having a boss who is simply ineffective can also have potentially negative consequences. One Swedish studyfound that employees of leaders who were rated as “less effective” in a variety of areas (such as consideration, ability to manage change, and encouraging employee participation) were more likely to experience heart attacks. Another study similarly found that employees who rated their managers poorly were at heightened risk of heart disease relative to their peers who viewed their bosses more favorably. And, those risks increased the longer the employee stayed at the organization. Needless to say, there’s a reason that recent research has drawn attention to the “brain-heart connection.”
2. The daily grind, and the things you can’t control
While the people you work with can have either a positive or negative impact on your health, so too can your job itself. A 10-year longitudinal study of female workers found that women who experienced high job strain (which was defined as having both high demands and low control on the job) had a 38% increased chance of suffering cardiovascular disease compared to those with low job strain. Chronic stress on the job was also linked to higher BMI in a mostly male sample. While the behaviors at work of those with high or low stress were similar, the researchers suggested that the individuals who experienced chronic stress were more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors at home, perhaps as a way to unwind.
The idea that your entire job description impacts your health may seem like a bitter pill to swallow—as most of us don’t choose the work we do, or the particulars of our work environments, with our health in mind. (And, of course, most Americans don’t feel a great sense of opportunity when it comes to jobs in the first place.) But once again, the thing we can control is the role we play in response to the external stressors we face: can we develop healthier habits at home—before and after work—to counteract the effects of inevitable stress? Can we speak to HR about the way our boss may treat us, and the stress it causes us on the job? With every stressor that arises, there is likely a small step you can take to reframe the situation, and take a little more control into your own hands.
3. The quirks of your work habits
While it might seem that workaholism is an internal quality that is driven entirely by the individual’s personality, research suggests otherwise. It’s been found that having a demanding workload in and of itself can contribute to aspects of workaholism, such as work-family conflict. Knowing that you have to keep afloat with current and future assignments can cause people to work excessively, and in turn, this can negatively impact relationships and job satisfaction. Although the research showed that workload in and of itself did not create all of the symptoms of workaholism, it definitely could play a role.
As you might expect, workaholism is linked to feelings of burnout and increased stress. This, also unsurprisingly, can have physical health implications. A longitudinal studyof white collar workers found that people who worked 10 or more hours a day had a 60% higher risk of heart problems relative to their peers. In addition, the workers who spent more time working were more likely to exhibit “Type A” behaviors such as aggression, hostility, and competitiveness.
Even if you wouldn’t define yourself as a workaholic, your work habits—and attitudes—are likely still impacting you. Are you someone who checks your email throughout the day? (Most of us fall prey to this habit.) In a study conducted by the University of British Columbia one group was told to limit checking their email to three times a day, while the other group was told to check their email as often as possible. The study found that those who checked their email less often reported less stress (although they did find that limiting themselves to checking it that infrequently was difficult to do). Another studysuggested that frequent multitasking might actually change your brain structure. In particular, people who reported using several media devices simultaneously were found to have less grey matter density in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a part of the brain associated with high level functions such as decision-making and emotion. Because the study showed a correlation, one can’t know if the less dense ACC made one more susceptible to multi-tasking, or if multi-tasking affected the density of the ACC. Still, given that we know multitasking can decrease productivity, this certainly gives you something more to think about.
If you realize things like your work relationships or approach to work are draining you of energy, it’s a good time to take a pause and re-assess the factors that are impacting you. Believe it or not, prioritizing your mental and physical health are not “lazy” or “indulgent” things to do, despite the assumptions we make all the time in our can-do culture. In fact, disregarding our well-being can put us at risk for far bigger problems. Each day, it’s up to us to assess how we feel, and make the changes we need to enjoy a happier and healthier life.
Need to get a handle on how you’re managing stress at work? Mindfulness can help. Click here for more details.
The Dalai Lama has said, “Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.”
Unsurprisingly, this is easier said than done.
But of course, it’s also impossible to argue with the wisdom behind these words. Ideally, we would all love to maintain our cool in the face of conflict, irritation, and frustration. Yet, imagining yourself with that colleague that always seems to get under your skin isn’t exactly the recipe for inner peace.
In my experience, some of the most anxiety-inducing interactions and relationships actually take place at work, an environment where stress is more likely to crop up to begin with. Whether it’s the person in finance who seems to derive pleasure from saying “no,” or the micromanaging boss who nitpicks the placement of every comma, workplace relationships can easily become triggers for added stress.
That said, this dynamic doesn’t have to happen. Each of us has more control than we give ourselves credit for, and we can make the choice to manage these relationships with more intentionality. With these tips, you can become more skillful with how you approach stressful relationships at work—and you’ll come out on the other side with greater clarity about yourself, and your strengths.
1. Look in the mirror, and start with yourself.
If you find that you a lot of your workplace relationships are contentious, start by taking a long, hard look at yourself. After all, you are the common denominator in all of the interactions you have—at work, and everywhere!
Think about the people with whom you have difficult relationships. Have you found that other people struggle to relate to these people as well? Or do you think there is something about you that engenders the prickly dynamic?
If you think you may be playing a role, be proactive. Ask for feedback from a close confidant to get a better sense of how you might be having a negative impact on others. Try working with an executive coach to get to the root of the issue. During my career, I’ve seen some people make some truly remarkable transformations, so don’t be afraid to tackle this issue head-on.
2. Reconfigure your frame of reference.
If you’re in a situation where the other person does indeed have difficult relationships across the board, start by seeing if a shift in your perspective can have a positive impact on your interactions.
I once worked with someone who seemed to have challenging relationships with a lot of people. She was impatient and critical, and regularly elicited defensive reactions from others. When they defended themselves, her behavior escalated, creating interactions that were even more unpleasant. It was a vicious cycle.
As someone who truly believes in the Dalai Lama’s quote, I refused to let her behavior irritate me. I made the deliberate choice to interact with her in an even-handed manner, even if it didn’t feel natural in the moment. As a result, I earned her respect and eventually became one of the few people who could actually give her honest feedback. Believe it or not, she actually took a lot of my advice, and learned to soften her behavior (somewhat). The bottom line is that I didn’t have the same difficulty with her that others did due to the choice I made.
How did I do this? The first thing I did was choosing to focus on her humanity—in order to develop a sense of compassion for her. I thought about her as a vulnerable person, and how unpleasant her life must be with so many negative relationships. I pondered why she might be so brittle, and thought about what my life would be like if I, like her, only noticed what was wrong with people. I realized that part of her behavior was a result of insecurity.
I’m not saying this is an easy undertaking (and keep in mind, I have years of experience as a psychologist), but compassion is a practice, and it gets easier to develop as you do it.
3. Dodge bullets by thinking ahead.
If you recognize that your ultimate goal is to improve your interactions no matter what, then another helpful strategy is to think about what’s important to the difficult person in question. If you are able to tap into what the other person values most, what their triggers might be, and what communication styles might soften their edge, you can reclaim your power in your interactions.
In the case of my co-worker, I knew that she took her work really seriously and wanted high-quality output. So, whenever I dealt with her, I made sure that I worked hard and always delivered the best product possible. I knew that if she resisted me for whatever reason, I could stand behind my work from a place of integrity.
4. Confront the issue head-on.
It can also be helpful to be proactive—by meeting with the person at a neutral time (maybe over lunch) to talk about the nature of your relationship. Using “I” statements, you could say something along the lines of “I feel like we’re navigating difficulty in our communication, and I really want to improve it.” Then, listen to what the other person has to say, striving to do so without judgment. Brainstorm about ways that you can work more effectively together.
At this point, you might be thinking, “I shouldn’t have to do that!” If that’s how you feel, reflect on your goal in the situation. If you want to have most positive interactions possible, then think about how you can create the conditions under which that will be most likely.
What if all that Doesn’t Work?
While the aforementioned strategies should certainly make a dent, I can’t guarantee their success. After all, you don’t have control over how someone else chooses to behave.
5. Focus on Self-Protection
In less extreme cases, it can be helpful to keep the principles of Aikido in mind. Aikido is a martial art that has been translated as meaning “the way of harmonious spirit.” When I took a class at the rec center, my instructor stressed that the essence of aikido was to show our attacker the error of his or her ways by “gently” defending ourselves. In other words, it’s not about harming the other person; it’s about protecting ourselves.
6. Breathe into Your Anger
With that in mind, you’ll want to guard against escalating situations by getting angry in the moment. Again, while this can be easier said than done, if you can stay calm by deep breathing and reminding yourself of your goals in the moment, you might be able to maintain a greater sense of inner peace. (For more tips on managing negative emotions click here). As Mark Twain wrote, “Never argue with a fool. Onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.”
7. Set Boundaries
You’ll also want to empower yourself by setting boundaries. You may try saying something like “I’ll be willing to talk about this later after we’ve both had time to reflect.” This would obviously be more difficult to do with a boss because of the inherent power dynamic, but even something like “I would like to listen to your feedback, but it’s more difficult for me to do so when you raise your voice,” could potentially work.
In extreme cases, like abuse, harassment, or bullying, you’ll obviously want to report the individual to human resources, and/or, if possible, try to find another position. Contentious relationships at work have been found to be linked to stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic inflammatory diseases. Sometimes, it’s just not worth the trouble.
Actor Stephen Moyer said, “Conflict is drama, and how people deal with conflict shows you the kind of people they are.” Keep in mind the sort of person you aspire to be, and act accordingly.