Managing the social aspect of working relationships

Aug 30, 2018
Although it isn’t always listed in the job specification, the ability to foster good working relations with those around us is an unwritten condition of any employment. But how can you make this happen?


Have you ever been part of a team pressed by a looming deadline, which nobody seemed to care about but you? You wanted to scream but instead, you bit your lip and carried the others. Or, worse, you let your emotions fly and although the others finally did step up, for weeks afterwards you were given the cold shoulder?

Aristotle once said: “Anyone can be angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not easy”. Managing ourselves within a team under stress is perhaps the truest test of our emotional intelligence. So, what can we do to pass that test? Here are some suggestions:
  • Be open and honest with colleagues. When people know more about you, there’s less chance of them misinterpreting you;
  • Be curious about the people you work with. Let them know you care;
  • Be communicative. It’s better to over-communicate, or to ask the extra question, than to mistakenly assume;
  • Never neglect the common courtesies of saying please, thanks and I’m sorry;
  • If you disagree with the status quo, then challenge it – but do so at an appropriate time and in the right place. Challenge the issue, not the person, while respectfully acknowledging their point of view and their emotional response;
  • Value feedback from others; receive it graciously, consider it seriously and test it practically. And let them know you’ve done so;
  • Earn the trust of your colleagues by consistently acting on your word and by openly trusting those who do likewise;
  • Be accessible; always keep an open mind, if not an open door;
  • Only ever get mad on purpose. There are times when you should share strong emotions with a colleague rather than bottle them up – for example, when someone has let the team down badly without due cause. But if you are going to share such emotions, do so with social awareness and self-control so that the outcome is constructive; and
  • Explore rather than avoid personality clashes. You may find yourself on a project with someone you can’t seem to gel with. If so, try to stand in the other person’s shoes to gain their perspective and establish some common ground from which you can focus and work on the task.

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Having a healthy working relationship with those around us, although not in the job specification, is an unwritten condition of any employment. Regardless of how brilliant we are in our technical fields, if we can’t get on with our colleagues, we simply won’t progress.

Lasting, trusting relationships don’t simply happen, they are caused. They derive from social awareness and social management, which in turn derives from self-awareness. The bridge from awareness of self to awareness of others is empathy. Empathy is that all-important skill on which all other interpersonal skills, including influencing, are built.

Empathy, however, should not be mistaken for sympathy, just as emotional intelligence should not be mistaken for mere agreeableness. While sympathy separates us from the other, empathy, by having us stand in the shoes of the other, gives us a sense of how they’re feeling and so connects us to them.

Standing in the shoes of the other doesn’t automatically mean we have to agree with them, but it allows us to act from an informed position with an awareness of the other’s perspective – an emotionally intelligent perspective.