Office Relationships Work a Lot Like Those With Friends and Family

Confront problems head on and face-to-face because you are going to be seeing that face every day.

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By Brittany Larsen

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I will never forget the moment I realized I will spend more time in an office than in my home. I was about a week into my first "real" job. It's tough to come to terms with the fact that our time is typically spent more with the people we work with than with the people we love and care about most. When giving advice to my employees, I often ask them questions like "would that approach work in your personal relationships?" because it helps to humanize the problem they may have with a coworker.

While you don't often get to choose your coworkers, you do get to decide how you react to problems in the workplace. The major difference between how you should treat your coworkers and friends is that friends will likely still love and care about you even if you make a big mistake or treat them poorly. The same isn't true for your work family, which is why you have to be careful with how you address issues in the workplace.

Related: The Importance of Candor and Other Lessons From a Former White House Chief of Staff

If you have recently gotten into an argument or disagreement -- or if you want to be prepared for when it does happen -- try the following tips to regain coworker trust and patch things up.

1. Talk about it in person.

If you're disagreeing or have gotten into a heated argument with a coworker in any type of electronic communication, make sure that you stop and handle it in person, or at least over the phone. In every single instance when I've been frustrated by an email, Slack message or text from a coworker or employee, it always gets resolved more efficiently in person. That doesn't mean that it's easy. There is a reason why people want to hide behind their phones during difficult situations. But it will get resolved much faster.

You can also diffuse the situation by simply asking "can we chat about this in person?" in response to a frustrating email. I've noticed that this can help both parties decide if it's worthwhile to continue chatting about. Sometimes the issue will just blow over. In today's communication environment, it can take discipline to get up from your desk to go talk to someone, but it's always worth it.

Related: 9 Tips to Help You Co-exist Peacefully With Difficult People

2. Stay calm and remove yourself from the situation if necessary.

If the conversation is getting heated, make sure whomever you're speaking to knows that you are trying to get to the bottom of things. Stay calm. Just like any argument with a spouse, significant other or friend, you'll be more productive if you avoid words like "always" and "never." It's also important that your coworkers or employees know that you are on the same team, which is something you have to show them before you disagree, not just say in the heat of the moment.

It is never professional to yell in the workplace or to call your coworkers or employees names. If necessary, walk away from the conversation after letting your coworker know that you need to clear your head. That should always be the last resort, but it's much better to walk away than to completely lose your cool.

Related: Can't We All Just Get Along? 5 Steps to Building Better Relationships.

3. Put on your suit of armor.

This is the advice my mom constantly gave me early in my career. You need to visualize that you are wearing a suit of armor at work. If you take every little thing your coworkers or manager says personally, you will lose your mind. It's important to develop a thick skin and make sure that you create boundaries so that when an annoying employee says something sarcastic, you can bounce back and it doesn't derail you.

At the end of the day, it's important to remember that people are still people, even if they are your coworkers. If you consider that they are humans and likely have good intentions, you'll be more successful at communicating with them, especially when times get tough.

Brittany Larsen

Director of Client Services at Arena Communications

Brittany Larsen started her career as director of communications for a prominent congressman in Washington, DC. and was then recruited to be director of communications for the Governor of Florida. She now leads the client service team at Arena Online, a politically-focused digital marketing firm.

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