Managing Stressful Work Relationships
Welcome to the Confident Careerist Podcast for professionals just like you who place a high value on their career development and strive for success while also seeking work-life balance.
My name is Teena Evert and I am delighted to be your host. I’m a careerist myself and career development, leadership, and life coach. I love what I do and I hope that you enjoy the creation of this podcast and allow it to be an important tool in your toolbox that will help you to accelerate your success, gain greater confidence and happiness in your work-life.
Stress at Work
Relationships at work can be stressful indeed. Think about what it is about a particular relationship at work that creates stress for you?
Perhaps you don’t feel understood or respected by someone you work closely with. Or maybe you feel criticized by your boss or set up for failure by your team.
Whatever it is, it’s stressful and you need to find a solution so you don’t have to worry about losing your cool or your job for that matter.
I had a client, I’ll call him Bill and he came to me for help because he had a stressful relationship with not only his co-workers but his boss. He was told that if he didn’t change his attitude he was out. Bill came to me to try and figure out what he could do to improve his relationships, primarily so he didn’t lose his job. The first thing we did was examine the feedback that he was receiving from people at work. He was told that he wasn’t approachable and lacked enthusiasm on his team.
At first, Bill wanted to spend time looking at all the things his co-workers and boss were doing that upset him. Their behaviors at the office left him feeling disrespected and not valued in his role as an executive. As a result, he worked harder, which meant he was preoccupied with work tasks and rarely looked up from his desk when someone approached him with a question. He worked through lunch and didn’t engage in office small talk when others stuck around the office and socialized during the lunch hour.
Through our work together Bill was able to do some self-reflection and gain awareness and understanding of how he was being perceived by others. He started to see why people felt he wasn’t approachable. He realized that by not making eye contact and neglecting to give his full attention when asked a question, people could feel dismissed, unimportant, or get the vibe that he just didn’t want to be bothered.
In reality, because of the stressful work relationships, Bill put pressure on himself to be super productive, which caused him to be driven by achieving tasks and was less interested or motivated by social interaction and engagement at the office. He realized that although his preference is to be task-focused he was able to make some adjustments in his attitude and behavior that as a result began to make a positive impact on his work relationships.
By taking the time to make eye contact when speaking with another and to ask questions and actively listen more, he started to feel more connected to his co-workers and his co-workers felt more at ease with him. Over time, Bill started to feel more motivated at work and took breaks from his tasks to be more social even though he preferred not to at times.
Bill’s ability to reflect on his part of the stress in his work relationships allowed him to take responsibility for change and he took specific actions to get his desired results. He no longer feels like his job is on the line and he is enjoying himself more at work with his co-workers. His boss was also pleased and gave Bill a promotion.
Self-reflection & self-awareness go a long way
This illustrates the importance of self-reflection and self-awareness about how you are being perceived by the people that you work with.
What does your body language communicate to them? If you don’t feel you are being treated fairly or in the manner that you desire, what can you do to start to shift this?
Changing your perception and being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, can help you see the small changes you can make to get more of what you want with ease.
Let’s look at another scenario, where you feel you’re doing everything right yet your efforts are not having a positive impact on your stressful work relationships. You feel like no matter what you do, nothing changes, and if anything – it’s getting worse. You wonder if someone is out to get you. You certainly don’t like to be talked down to or criticized by your boss. You feel like you are walking on eggshells and it’s impacting your productivity and overall job performance.
Power and control
What can you do to manage these super stressful work relationships? There is not one solid solution for every difficult work relationship issue, however, you can work towards improving the situation by first assessing what is in your power and control to change and what isn’t.
Only focus on what’s within your power and control to change not what isn’t. What you have power and control over changing, is the way you behave and respond to interpersonal stress.
If you are not taking any action and camping out in the back seat, but harboring anger about where things are going, then you’re disempowering yourself. On the other hand, if you are being an aggressor and trying to control the situation with intimidation and threats, then you are abusing your power. And even if this is being done to you, well, two wrongs don’t make a right.
If you don’t believe me, ask yourself how that strategy is working for you so far? Are you any less stressed or is your blood pressure rising? So what’s the solution and best way to manage stressful work relationships?
3 Best Tips
- What are you no longer willing to tolerate? Write down how you feel and the behaviors that are contributing to your internal stress. Get clarity about what the barriers are to accomplishing what you need to and desire in your role.
- Assess what is within your control to change and what is outside of your control and let it go. Focus only on what is within your control to change and do your best to show up and respond to situations with integrity. At the end of the day if you know you are doing the best you can given the circumstances you will feel empowered even if things aren’t always turning out in your favor.
- Recognize that you may need to make some difficult decisions that require courage and change. Choosing to leave a toxic work environment is not easy, especially when our work is important to us for a variety of reasons.
In many ways, work establishes an identity that shapes the way we relate to people and how they, in turn, relate to us. People who are experiencing a career change can often feel they have lost their identity or are desperate for money. Job loss and extended unemployment can also reinforce negative thoughts and feelings such as depression, anger, anxiety, or hopelessness.
Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today. – Tich Nhat Hahn
Be ready, willing, and able to change
As a former marriage and family therapist, who has worked with hundreds of highly distressed couples, one of the most common behavioral patterns that I saw were people trying to change their partner. They believed that if their partner would just change, everything would work out just fine. It was not until they were ready, willing, and able to look at themselves, that things started to shift for the better. This was not easy, nor did it always result in a marriage staying together.
I often told my couple client’s not to be attached to the outcome, but rather be invested in the process. I say the same thing to people who are struggling with stressful work relationships. Most people are resistant to change and this resistance can become what sabotages the potential for success.
Moving onto something new once you’ve given it your all, can be perceived as a good thing. So do your best managing yourself and managing your stress in response to others and you will be on the path to success.
To learn more about how to manage stress at work, listen to EP36: How to Manage Stress at Work and Build Resilience.
Learning to communicate more effectively is essential to managing stressful work relationships. More often than not, there are barriers to communicating effectively that are the root cause of interpersonal stress.
Conversational Intelligence is a method that can provide tools to communicate in a way that builds trust, reduces conflict, and minimizes stress because it allows for more successful outcomes.
If you’re in a situation where you feel stuck and would like to receive professional support to free yourself from the struggle, I invite you to start here to set up a time to chat
Be Confident –