By: Jere Keys
Not getting along with your colleagues can leave you dreading going to work – and it can be even worse if that person is your boss.
So why is it that conflict happens so often in the workplace? How much can dealing with difficult colleagues affect your mental health? And when should you really be worried?
Why workplace relationships become strained and what you can do
1. A workplace environment is by its very nature made for conflict.
Workplaces see many of spending our days with people we would not choose as friends otherwise, with really no way out except forward (barring, of course, choosing unemployment). Not only might you see these people more than you see your loved ones, you are required to face challenges and stress with them, and we all break at some point under stress.
It’s inevitable that in such a contrived environment things will not always go smoothly, not matter how much your company invests in team bonding and your emotional wellbeing.
What to do – Before blaming others, consider if your colleagues really are your problem or it might be the environment itself. Do you feel overwhelmed? Is this the right job for you? Are you perhaps just bored and creating drama to make the time pass?
Review the key elements of stress management, including self-care and better sleep. And consider mindfulness, proven to lower anxiety.
Of course do learn the difference between stress and depression, because the latter can require support.
2. People are hired for their matching skills, not their matching personalities.
While in some ways people in certain workplaces can have similar values – for example, in banking you will find many driven, money motivated sorts – personalities are bound to deviate.
People have different responses to stress, and even different responses to success. So you might find your colleague who gets very snappy when the heat is on as irritating to be around as your colleague who slacks off and sings out loud when the team is doing well.
What to do – First of all, be sure that you know your own personality and are not actually just psychologically projecting – i.e., putting your own traits onto others.
Then learn the power of perspective. Too many of us assume that others see the world from our vantage point. Learning to understand others’ viewpoints means you can understand them better.
And communication is always key – learning how to communicate under stress can be a priceless skill to invest in.
3. An office can be a negative environment despite a focus on workplace wellbeing.
No amount of employee perks can make up for the fact that many people just don’t like their jobs. This means that no matter how many free meals in the cafeteria, gym passes, or great lounge areas your company offers, you might be facing up to someone else’s moaning all day – or even your own internal negative soundtrack.
What to do – Learn boundaries if your colleagues are always dumping on you.
If it is you who are the moaner, ask yourself good questions. Is it really the job you hate, or are you using the job to hide the fact you are really not happy with other parts of your life, and would any job, no matter how wonderful, see you unhappy?
If you think you might be the downer, read our piece on negative thinking.
4. The workplace environment acts like a trigger for unresolved issues.
Most, if not all of us, have unresolved issues that can stem from our recent past all the way back to childhood. The more we are put in stressful situations or forced intimacy with others, the more likely it is that one of these patterns will be set off.
It might just be that a recent breakup has your self-esteem at an all time low, so a throwaway joke about your wrinkled shirt has you overreact.
Or it might be that one of your colleagues, without you realising it, drives you crazy because they have a similar personality to the parent figure you had the most issues with as a child. Perhaps, for example, they always tell you what to do and never appreciate your ideas, much like your mother when you were a kid.
What to do: Ideally, get to know who you are. This might be through reading self help books, journalling, or seeing a counsellor. The more you understand yourself, the less likely you are to let others get to you, the more you can see them for themselves instead of through a lens of the past.
Other things that can help are to learn about things like attachment theory, which covers what happens if you don’t get enough attention as a child, and childhood trauma.
5. Some people in every workplace will inevitably be suffering from mental health issues.
According to the mental health foundation, one in four people in the UK suffer from a mental health issue in the space of a year. Wether that is depression, an anxiety disorder, an eating disorder or sleep problems, or a personality disorder, it means that 25% of your colleagues will be struggling at any given time. And there’s every chance it might even be you at some points.
What to do – Drop your stigmas around mental health issues (including your own) by getting educated.
And try learning the art of self compassion. It turns out that the more we can learn to cut ourselves some slack, the more we can give others empathy and understanding, too.
Are you worried your workplace is ruining your mental health?
Difficult relationships, regardless of the reason, can lead to stress, anxiety, low self-esteem, anger issues, and depression. If you really can’t get along with colleagues despite putting in best effort it can help to speak to a counsellor or therapist. They can help you identify the root causes of your conflict, manage your stress, and make better choices for yourself making forward.
Would you like to share your tactics for managing workplace conflict with colleagues? Share below, we love hearing from you.