Believe it or not, coworker relationships can teach us a lot about how to interact with the people in our lives in ways that maintain balance and harmony within some of the deeper relationships you have in your personal life. We all have those friends or relatives that we’re bound to without choice, but one commonality I’ve noticed over time is that people are often trying to change the people they’re close to. Whether it’s silly habits, awkward behaviors, or complete personality shifts, they place expectations that if this person wasn’t this way, the relationship would be better or happier or have less arguments and so on. We do that A LOT. And all it does is build a bridge of resentment in the middle of the relationship.
In enlightened reality, though, we know that in these ultimatum-type scenarios, it generally plays out in one of two ways. Person A expects Person B to change, and he/she does, but then Person B loses him/herself to these changes and doesn’t end up happy or better or even the person that Person A wants them to be. Person B is unhappy. Or Person B doesn’t change and Person A is left constantly living in the fantasy that things would be better if only Person B would change. So, Person A is unhappy. This kind of thing can happen in any of your interpersonal relationships: siblings, parents, friends, significant others, etc.
What I’ve also observed, however, is that you don’t see this kind of thing happen as often in the workplace. Of course, part of maintaining your professional demeanor is always being sharp and on your best, most appropriate behavior at work. But we’re all human. We interact with others all day long and every personality you come across at work is one you have to learn to adjust to – even if it’s not a difficult person to get along with. You support each other’s professional work and goals by getting to know each other’s working styles and bridging the gaps between their strengths and weaknesses where you can. Your interactions still involve frustration, arguments, and differences of opinion, but there’s a different type of respect that is maintained there that we don’t always uphold in our personal lives, even though we could stand to benefit from them more in our lifelong relationships.
Here are just a few of the concepts I’ve seen happen successfully in the workplace that we can benefit from applying to our personal relationships:
You can’t change the behaviors you don’t find socially appropriate, annoying tendencies, random idiosyncrasies, etc., of your coworkers. So, for the time you work with them, you have to learn to live with it. You really can’t ask them to change, and even if you did, they have no reason to listen to you or agree. You maintain a level of civility with these people so everyone can get done what they need to.
This is what I would apply to those meddling aunties and cousins who always only show up when there’s drama or gossip that they’re trying to suck you into. Make them their tea and mingle for a while. It won’t kill you. Then smile, tell them it’s always nice to see them, and pretend you got an important phone call you have to take in the other room.
You don’t get to choose the backgrounds, races, religions, cultures, family circumstances, marital status, college majors, etc., of the people you work with. And you certainly don’t judge them or tell them how to live their lives. You have to take these people as they are and accept that they are a part of your life for the duration of your work relationship.
You likely have a large family, and if you do, that means there are a lot of characters, questionable lifestyle choices, and bad decisions spread across that entire family. But most people like to pretend they don’t have the drama or skeletons and act like the moral authority of the entire community, using anyone and everyone as an example of “what not to do” or “how not to disappoint your parents.” Learn to be accepting of each individual and the way they live their lives, especially if it doesn’t impact you directly. Literally no one person has the authority to judge anyone.
In a respectful workplace, you don’t tell people to shut up, walk away from conversations you don’t want to be a part of, storm out in the middle of a meeting, or give up on the workday because of something someone said. No matter how much something bothers you, you have to allow other people to express themselves before you make the decision to counter argue your point or end it where it’s at because it’s not worth it.
This is just a general social skill that I don’t find to be common anymore. It always feels like people are racing to make their points and be “right.” Not every conversation is a mic drop situation. Learn (or re-learn) to use this common courtesy.
4. Problem Solving
Most workplaces prefer people who are good at coming up with solutions to problems. You can’t always get away with saying, “Hmm, that sounds like a YOU problem,” and then walking away. I mean, you can do that. But you’ll be the office asshole. And workplaces like employees who are team players. Most meetings are called because your supervisor wants the team to figure out how to deal with an issue that has arisen or one that has been foreseen together and the sooner you do that, the sooner everyone can move on with their lives.
The same goes with your family and friends. If there is an issue going on and someone asks you for help, then help. Don’t brush them off with, “It’ll be OK” or “What’s meant to happen will happen,” etc. Sometimes, the person actually needs you to offer your resources to help get through their issue. Don’t brush them off because you don’t have time or it’s not your problem.
In most work settings I have been in, I have almost always found myself in collaborative efforts with coworkers in my own or other departments. These days, workplaces like to promote their successful cross-collaborations between departments – the real world equivalent of group projects in high school and college. Here, you have to figure out everyone’s strengths and weaknesses and then work with that information to get done what needs to be done.
This is the backbone of any successful household or family. Instead of constantly dwelling on what others don’t do or where they falter, focus on each individual’s strengths and use that to the advantage of your family’s well-being. But be careful, you might find yourself with a home that functions like a well-oiled machine when you do this and then you won’t actually have anything to complain about.
Of course, our work relationships aren’t always going to be exact mirrors for our personal relationships. These are just a few things I’ve noticed that could help shape the way we choose to deal with some of the interpersonal interactions we have with people in our personal lives to make the relationships less dramatic, less toxic, and less resentful than you might be experiencing now.