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Building Healthy Relationships at Work

Oct 28 2020
7 min read
Two female co-workers laughing with each other in the office.

Whether you work from home and participate in zoom meetings, or you commute to an office, your colleagues play an important role in your life.

In fact, a recent study found most people spend one-third of their lives at work — with the average American spending 90,000 hours on the job. It’s safe to say the quality of your life can be directly affected by those you work with.

Your career takes a tremendous amount of energy and focus, say experts. So when you’re able to engage with co-workers in a healthy way, it energizes and motivates you. It boosts your confidence, helps temper everyday stress, and encourages positive thinking — especially when working on fun and inspiring projects. Conversely, difficult work relationships can take away from your ability to perform and can have a harming impact on your health and wellbeing.

For example, if colleagues show lack of enthusiasm for an important project you’re managing, you may feel unsupported and your mindset, and the quality of your work, can suffer. And just like other stressors, that negativity can affect your sleep patterns, eating habits, exercise motivation, and more.

When we carry this frustration, it can color our other relationships and experiences, too, as many of us become distracted and less focused when off the job, experts note. It’s as if the negative preoccupation zaps our ability to pay attention and reap the benefits from any positive energy friends and family may offer.

If this sounds familiar, you’re likely asking: So, what can I do? Canyon Ranch therapy and relationship experts chime in with advice to help you better manage difficult work relationships, while nurturing others:

Take the First Step

Work relationships can sometimes be hard to spark, especially when you’re new to a job. Some ways to break the ice: Ask someone for help with the printer, offer to go on a coffee run, or start a daily conversation with the person who sits (or zooms) next to you. Small interactions will help you learn about those around you — and help you begin to form connections with certain people.

Make Your Connections Positive Ones

You’re fortunate when you find people you really click with at work, but it’s important to look at what’s drawing you together. Maybe you collaborate effectively with your boss because you listen to one another well. Or perhaps you get along with your associate because you often share stories about your same-age kids. These are healthy bonds built on what’s good about your situation. When you connect through negativity, however, it depletes your energy and reinforces a focus on what is not working, so pay attention to that.

Offer What You Want to Receive

It’s the same lesson your mother probably taught you: Treat someone as you would like to be treated. When it comes to interacting with those at work, offering what you’d want out of the relationship —respect, thoughtfulness, patience, optimism — is the best approach. It takes practice, but if you’re aware of how you’re behaving and put in the effort, you’re more likely to create connections that will uplift and thrive.

But Manage Your Expectations

Of course, some people won’t respond in the same way. It’s not everyone’s goal to get along with their coworkers. If a colleague has a competitive outlook or is looking to outshine you, a healthy bond may never grow — and it’s important to be conscious of those situations, so you can be realistic in your approach and response to interactions.

Remember, too, that some negative people in our lives can be our teachers, from a mindfulness stand point. A person who complains often, gossips, and puts others down, for instance, is someone who can teach about detaching, remaining calm, responding instead of reacting, setting boundaries, and staying focused on what works in your life, rather than what doesn’t. Being able to drop their negative energy, and not carry it around, is an important tool. Finding ways to not let such a person “get to you” is critical — as you don’t want to be the person snapping at family members or complaining about the complainer — putting you in the same negative mindset! If this sounds familiar, it’s time to find ways to take care of yourself, mind and body.

Take walks on your lunch break. Go for a yoga class or meditate before work. Join a nearby gym. Find healthy outlets for your frustration so you can come home and enjoy your evening with your family or friends.


Being clear about your feelings is key to maintaining any relationship. If you sense a shift between you and a colleague, or find yourself disagreeing, talk to that person about it. Take a walk or go to lunch and share your thoughts. Oftentimes we misconceive the tone of an email or body language during a meeting, and we take it personally. That person’s behavior may have nothing to do with your relationship, but you have to ask them in order to find out. Communicating concerns makes understanding possible. Giving someone the benefit of doubt is a gift. For instance, asking: “Are you okay? You seemed stressed earlier,” is a kinder approach than: “What’s up? That was so uncool.” Note the difference? And, finally, if the person repeats this behavior over and over and doesn’t respond to your attempts to communicate in a conscious way, it may be time to distance yourself and set boundaries.

Recognize When It's Time For A Change

Though leaving a job is a difficult thought for most of us, it’s important to recognize when the workplace is an unhealthy environment. If you are not getting back any of the positive energy you are bringing to your workplace, ask yourself: Can I really stay here? It can be a hard transition, especially if you’ve been with a company for a number of years and have gotten into a routine, but you have to make choices that contribute to your overall wellbeing. Remember that your experience of work, what it offers and what it asks of you, can shape all aspects of your life. If the environment is one where you do not feel valued, supported, inspired — or one where you are passed up on promotions or projects that you’re trained for — it can be a wonderful opportunity for you to look for employment elsewhere and perhaps land in a wonderful environment.