Workplaces have different cultures and expectations about how their staff are to relate to one another, which can have a big impact on how you create strong relationships in the office. Some firms have a formal hierarchical structure where leadership flows down from top to bottom, and deference flows the other way. Other companies are challenging this norm by instituting a flatter leadership model. Take this direct quote from the Netflix culture statement for example: You only say things about fellow employees you say to their face… We work hard to get people to give each other professional, constructive feedback – up, down and across the organization – on a continual basis. 

Whatever the culture in your workplace, there are some basic principles that can help you form positive lasting relationships, stress less about office drama, and more importantly enjoy your experience of life beyond the turnstiles. 

First of all, not everyone is going to like you or be your best friend—this isn’t school, and you will waste a lot of time and mental energy if you enter work with that goal. The fact that your vibe goes down well with some and repels others, says nothing about you, other than you are a human like the rest of us. Accepting that reality frees you up to be yourself. 

Next, remember that social needs are prioritised by the brain with an equal importance to survival needs for a reason. Social networks describe how the human tribe operates. This means that the relationships you form at work have a high social and business value to you. Invest time in getting to know the people around you, what are they interested in away from the office, how do they like to work, what are their preferred styles of communication. 

Most of us think that the way we relate and communicate is normal and everyone else is the problem. Not so. We are all unique, and as a minimum, require presence and respect. Practice generosity, patience, and improve your listening skills.

As humans we feel more comfortable around authenticity and appropriate levels of vulnerability. Being yourself means being open about aspects of your life at home, your hopes and dreams, your worries and failings. There is no need to be perfect; in fact, it only takes a single voice of vulnerability in a group for everyone to open up and connect at a deeper level. This takes courage and trust, so go at your own pace—no need to force it.

If someone is bothering you at work or a relationship is turning sour, it is highly likely that you will start having negative thoughts about them and this will turn into a laundry list of complaints, justified by their behaviours. This happens because the brain starts to see the relationship as a potential threat to your survival, which is why the potential of being embarrassed, thought poorly of, or ostracised activates such a powerful stress response.

Keep your own behaviour and communication in check by:

  1. Noticing that you are activated by their behaviour and your thoughts are becoming negative—this is your early warning system to check yourself.
  2. Ask yourself: What else could this mean? And do I sometimes do that? Remember that we rarely know the full picture, and our guesses and assumptions are not facts.
  3. Breathe, re-engage your best self, and approach the situation with mindful compassion.

When it comes to networking with people you are meeting for the first time my favourite play is radical honesty. People are so bored by the general back and forth of: what do you do, and where’s your office etc. that going in with something unexpectedly honest goes so much further towards breaking the ice and inspiring presence. Give it a go—speak your mind, tell them how you really feel.

And finally, the old adage: Don’t sweat the small stuff actually describes a powerful spiritual practice pointing to two lessons: 

1. the attempt not to take the words and actions of others personally, and  

2. the attempt to decrease your stress reactivity. 

Neither of these are simple, but they do both fall squarely within the skillset of mindfulness which points towards equanimity throughout the course of events

So if you find yourself churning through an interaction at work, see if you can practice letting go, and letting be. Can you come back to your centre, to the breath in the body, the feet on the floor? Can you ease yourself towards acceptance, and self-compassion? Can you soften and allow yourself a new perspective, and might this lead you back into relationship, even with your nemesis? Not easy, I know. That’s why it’s called practice.

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  • Neil Seligman

    Author & Founder of The Conscious Professional

    Neil Seligman is a leading international expert in Mindfulness, Resilience, and Corporate Wellbeing. He is the Founder of The Conscious Professional and the Author of Conscious Leadership and 100 Mindfulness Meditations. As a world-class speaker, Neil tours the UK, Australia, Asia, Europe, and North America appearing at conferences and events. The Conscious Professional’s client list includes global blue-chip firms such as Netflix, Accenture, DLA Piper, Warner Brothers, and RBS. Whilst Neil’s work has transformed drastically, as he transitioned from London Barrister to Mindfulness Advocate, his two passions have remained the same: witnessing the unfolding of human potential, and the pursuit of excellence.