Navigating Workplace Relationships 

One of the most important things to remember when thinking about our careers is that the people you work with are just as important as the job itself, if not more. It doesn’t matter how much you love the work; if you don’t get along with your co-workers, you will still be miserable. 

Many factors can go into why you don’t get along with someone, from differences in opinion to opposing styles of work ethic. In this post, however, we will focus on finding a balance between being a team player and being taken advantage of. 

Andrea I., who has over 40 years of professional experience, has a lot of good advice for those struggling with navigating workplace relationships.  

Using the scenario of one of your co-workers coming to you and asking for your help, we will be focusing on the following: 

  1. Using your Judgment 
  2. Putting Yourself First
  3. Building Allies

1. Using your Judgment 

This is an obvious point, but it still needs to be said. More specifically, this is about why someone is asking for your help rather than just taking on their requests. 

Many times in a job, especially if we are new, we can feel obligated to do everything and anything that is asked of us. Even things that are well beyond what our job entails. So use your judgment to figure out what’s being asked of you and why it is imperative.

Listen and evaluate what you’re hearing:  

  • How important is the work? 
  • Does it relate to what you do? 
  • Are they just adding to your workload and using up your time? 

Even more importantly, ask questions before agreeing to help. Then, put it back on them. Sometimes people aren’t sure of what they do and don’t know. Ask questions and make sure that you come to an understanding of what the person is really asking for. Use this as a learning experience so that while sharing your expertise with them, you’re not doing their work for them. 

2. Putting Yourself First 

To further expand on the point above, the thing you’re trying to avoid is taking on someone else’s work. You want to figure out if this is a teaching moment or do they want you to do their work for them.

One of the ways to do this is to think about how much and how often the person is asking for help. How much meaning are they asking you to help them with a massive chunk of the assignment they’ve been given? That could be a problem, especially if they habitually do this. 

Be firm and stand your ground when someone is just trying to take advantage. Remember, you have a job to do too. You can’t take on everyone else’s work while having projects to complete. If the person’s request is genuinely going to take a lot of time for you to do and will put delays on your tasks, you can absolutely say no.

3. Building Allies

All that being said, there is another side to this that needs to be kept in mind. Everyone’s favourite: Networking! It’s tough to avoid networking as this is a crucial part of keeping your career moving. It’s also a great way to learn from your peers and those above you.

Sometimes, helping people is a good thing and leads to building meaningful relationships within your organization.

The difference between someone taking advantage, and a genuine ally, is this kind of relationship is usually give and take. You learn from them, and they learn from you. They’re also not at your desk asking for you to do things for them, and then when you ask them for something, they always say they’re busy. 

“Communication sometimes is not what you first hear, listen not just to the words, but listen for the reason.” —

– Michelle Lederman

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