You can pick your friends, but you can't pick your colleagues. Yet you need them in more ways than one. First, you need their goodwill and cooperation in order to perform your own job well. Second, studies find that disagreements with colleagues and bad working relationships deflate morale and impair performance even more than rumours of redundancies. And third, if you're like most people, you spend more walking hours at work than anywhere else. Reaching out to your colleagues - or extending an olive branch, if need be - can make your work environment a much nicer place in which to spend many hours a day. You don't have to be friends with your colleagues, but you do need to be friendly. Read on for fresh ways to make work a happier place to be.
Say a cheery 'Hello!' in the morning. Do you plod into the office, eyes down, shoulders slumped, and immediately start work? If so, you're likely to find that colleagues ignore you (the best) or avoid you (the worst). Get into the habit of smiling and greeting everyone as you arrive in the morning or begin your shift. It's amazing how fast this little coutesy can thaw chilly workplace relations.
Learn the art of small talk. Ask your colleagues about their interests - their favourite music, films, books, hobbies. Showing a genuine interest in them will make them feel comfortable around you.
Accept good-natured teasing. Other workers sometimes play jokes and tease to test what kind of person you are. So if they poke fun at your new shoes or mischievously put a funny screensaver on your computer, don't get angry. Let them know that you enjoy a good joke - even if it's sometimes on you. Of course, if the teasing is personal (about your weight or ethnicity, for example), and makes if difficult for you to do your job or makes you feel uncomfortable because of its sexual implications, you may need to take up the matter with your supervisor.
Ask what they think. People love to be asked their opinion, so go out of your way to ask, 'What do you think is missing from this report?' or 'How do you think I should handle this situation with X?' Then give the advice-giver a sincere thank you, even if the ideas are less than helpful.
Avoid gossip. You don't want anyone talking about you behind your back, so return the favour. When a colleague sidles up to you bearing a juicy titbit of gossip about an office romance or someone's impending dismissal, respond with, 'Really?', then change the subject or get back to work. If you don't respond, the gossiper will move on - and you'll retain the trust and respect of your colleagues.
When dealing with a difficult colleague, pretend your children are watching. This simple visualisation technique will help you to keep a cool head. After all, you've taught your children to have good manner. With them 'watching', it will be difficult to stoop to the level of your infuriating colleague.
Ladle out the compliments. Did Tom fix the office photocopier - again? Has Ann stopped smoking? By all means, compliment your colleagues on their achievements - personal or professional. Too often, we focus on what people are doing wrong.
Spread your good cheer. You don't have to be a Pollyanna, but try to perform one kindly act a week, choosing a different colleague each time. For example, one week you might bring in cakes for no reason. Another week, it might be a card for a colleague - maybe a thank-you note for helping you out the week before, or a light, humorous card for a colleague who seems to be a bit down.
Return calls and emails promptly. To win friends at work, a good place to start is good office etiquette. There's nothing more frustating to busy people than to have their emails and phone messages ignored. Your silence doesn't just make their job harder to do; it also conveys an unpleasant message to them: you're unimportant to me.
Give credit where credit is due. Don't withhold credit from deserving colleagues. You'll alienate them, and they won't be there for you when you need them (or when they all go out for lunch). Embrace the attitude that we all win together, and let others know when someone has done something above and beyond the call of duty on a project. Also, if someone incorrectly gives you credit and praise, acknowledge your colleague who does deserve the accolades. It will be remembered.
Here's one for the boss: always work at least as hard as anyone working with or for you. Make it clear that you would never ask anyone to do a level of work you wouldn't be willing to take on yourself.
Always be on time to show you respect other people's time.
Express your good ideas in a way that makes it clear that they are not the only good ideas, and that others may have equally good insights to add.
Talk about your life outside the office when it's appropriate. This will remind the people you work with that you're a person first, not just an employee or employer.
Assume the positive about what you don't know. Isn't it funny how a team of workers often think they're working harder than another team elsewhere in the building? Or that the bosses are clueless? Don't subscribe to that kind of toxic thinking, even if it's rampant. It's a negative attitude that makes work become miserable. Instead, assume that everyone else is working hard and doing their best, even if you don't know what their work is. You should believe both in the work you're doing and the organisation you're doing it for. If you can't, perhaps it's time to move on.