Coworkers Hard to Know? Scratch Their Surface | Relationship Building Discoveries

Sometimes we just can’t get a line on the people we work with. They seem so composed or unpredictable, uptight or laid back, pessimistic or optimistic. What is it with them, anyway?

When we can’t quite figure out our coworkers (or even our bosses), we feel uncertain about how to go about building a relationship with them. So, we put our detective face on:

  • Watching and listening for clues about what makes them tick
  • Asking our colleagues to share their perceptions
  • Speculating and scenario building based on our observations
  • Analyzing and revising our views along the way 

This is all so typical and often the road to nowhere.

What you see is rarely what you get!  

Work is different things to different people. For some it’s a:

  • Refuge from domestic strife
  • Playing field for one’s competitive drive
  • Source of revenue to fund a way of life
  • Place to feel important and valued
  • Community where there’s a sense of belonging 

Most people don’t showcase their whole selves at work. We come to work with the personal brand that we are willing to let others see, hoping to add a strong professional brand to it.

When we start to wonder why relationship building is so difficult, we should check our own cover to see what we’re showing or hiding. What do people know, suspect, or find curious about us?

The coworkers we watch are also watching us.

Be a teammate, not a detective. 

Great relationships evolve from common bonds and trust. Give a little—get a little and then give a little more. The secret sauce here is in the bonds. What is it that connects you to the people you work with?

  • Shared commitment to the work
  • Pride in your work ethic and standards
  • Willingness to acknowledge your weaknesses and to help each other
  • A sense of humor and compatible aspirations 

Relationships are built on give and take. Sometimes you have to give longer than you’d hoped. Relationships take time. We have to want them. Why? Because they are good for us and our organizations.

But relationships also challenge us, particularly our patience, sensibilities, and our own self-centeredness. They’re often humbling, teaching us a great deal about the burdens that our coworkers bring to work or return to afterward.

Here are two interesting people I’d like you to meet:

Mark supervised 20 customer service reps in a large call center. He was well liked by his employees although considered a bit distracted and even indifferent. Mark was also an avid collector of war memorabilia, everything from Civil War uniforms to canons. He shared the joy of his “treasure hunting” with a wife whom he adored—a wife whose degenerative eye disease led her each day to a fate of total blindness.

Maria was a go-getter at a large company, so eager to get work done to please her boss that she ran over everyone in her path. As an immigrant from Central America, she felt she had to out-perform everyone else to have a chance at advancement. Maria came from a very poor family and had father who was tough on her. She came to the U.S. as a teenager determined to “make it.” Every day was a challenge for her, and even after she’d attained unquestioned success, she could not stop pushing, always fearing possible failure.

Scratch the surface. Find a gem. 

We all have a story. It’s what makes us who we are. Our stories are the color commentary of our lives. The life experiences we bring to our jobs enrich our work and our relationships. Not every story belongs in the workplace, but certain ones help us to connect with others while bringing the most out in us.

Our business fitness grows from the relationships we build, the connections we nurture, and the following that we attract. We’re all more than our skill sets!

How do you go about building relationships at work with people you aren’t comfortable with? Any pitfalls we should know about? Thanks.