How to Handle Difficult Relationships at Work During the Pandemic

As much as the working arrangements have changed and people are now mostly working from home, the majority have felt as though we have been isolated from our communities. However, despite this feeling the reality is that we actually don’t work in complete isolation. This is because in whatever role you are in, you will have professional relationships – with clients, colleagues, a wider network – that can affect you, your work, and your performance.

While each of us may encounter a multitude of different career challenges, the most frequent ones involve relationships with other people.

Developing, and maintaining, positive professional relationships are key to the success of you and your business; and having negative professional relationships can greatly affect this.

While it may be tempting to walk away from difficult work relationships this is not a long term approach as you will always work with people, and people who may be connected with those you have a difficult relationship with. In today’s climate, it is easy to connect and also disconnect with a large group of people. By navigating difficult relationships, we are presented with an opportunity to create value in our work and in our professional or personal connections.

Here are some tips on how we can go about navigating difficult or negative work relationships:


  1. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes

    When we assess someone’s behavior we’re seeing them in the light of how we behave and what we know, believe, or assume. The key to navigating a difficult issue with a person is to think about what could have made them react the way they did and look at it from their position of knowledge, beliefs, and assumptions. A key question here is: why/how might it make sense to them?

    By being more empathetic to the other person’s view point, it will in turn help you understand them as a person better and hopefully relate to them too.


  3. Listen

    Listening does not always come so easy to most of us, however, it is a very useful tool when navigating difficult relationships. It is essential to not only hear what people are saying, but also what they mean and what they don’t say or leave out.

    Give people space to talk and express their views. It is found that most people open up when the environment created around the conversation allows a certain level of comfort and control that they can take hold of. Consequently, when you open yourself to listen to the other party, you will in turn have a better understanding of your peer’s attitudes, motivations and beliefs. This will help you understand why they are acting the way they are, and what you both can do to work around accommodating each other’s needs.


  5. Their working style

    Take notice of others’ working style when you approach or interrupt someone. Are they a morning person? If so, 8am might be the best time to have a difficult conversation rather than 3pm, when their energy and concentration is waning.  Consider how you might need to adapt to each key person you work with and what works for you as well.


  7. Take Action

    Though it is widely believed that “time heals all wounds”, there are some relationships, much like our professional ones, that require us to be more urgent in our action response time. A few tips on how to get started in taking action during difficult issues with your co-workers:


    1. Consider your most important work relationships, and who you would need to interact with the most in your role.
    2. Prioritize the most difficult relationship to tackle to the least difficult.
    3. Summarize the top 3 challenges in each relationship, considering them in the light of what has actually happened.
    4. Consider how you could have behaved differently in those situations. How could that have changed the outcome, and what could you do differently with your interactions from now on. A word of caution – don’t set yourself up to try too many things at once, as most of the time difficult relationships need to be tended to slowly.

Time and effort spent considering your work relationships is a worthwhile investment for your growth and self-love.

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