When we think about relationship dynamics, most of us think about our partners, friends, or family, but we rarely think about our coworkers. Despite spending hours with the same people, we tend to build walls around professional relationships to view them in isolation. However, improving your working relationships can have a massive impact on the time you spend in and outside of work.
Using the wisdom of Dr. Gottman’s relationship research, we can re-think the way we view our colleagues and foster a positive environment at work by using clear communication and building a culture of appreciation.
Using clear communication
It can be difficult to strike a balance between being assertive and being critical with our colleagues, and it can feel nearly impossible with our bosses. We can avoid the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling) in the workplace by talking about the situation we want to change, our feelings, and our needs using “I” statements, and by using a gentle start-up.
Clear communication expresses the situation, feelings, and needs for a solution, in a gentle way. Unclear communication is more likely to result in a colleague reacting defensively in return.
Building a culture of appreciation
Building a culture of appreciation requires everyone at work to get to know each other on a professional and personal level. This can include your colleagues’ interests, strengths, areas of improvement, and expertise, but also getting to know how they feel, their hobbies outside of work and any significant people in their lives.
Paying attention to each others’ outer and inner worlds is the first step in respecting and trusting each other as coworkers, but also as people in general. In relationship therapy, Dr. Gottman called this “building love maps,” but Dr. Bridbord has reworded this as “developing colleague maps” to apply to the workplace.
Another important factor to building a culture of appreciation is exchanging positive feedback. Feeling underappreciated at work can be damaging for your self-esteem and for your relationships with others. A little encouragement can go a long way in helping us all feel motivated to speak up and do our best.
Through clear communication and building a culture of appreciation, we can learn to assert ourselves, get to know one another, and exchange positive feedback that will inevitably help us all grow.