4 Steps to Work Better with Your Coworkers (No Matter How Unreasonable They Might Seem)


It seems like an easy enough task, right?  Getting along with your co-workers.

But they’ve got a few little teeny, tiny annoying habits.

Or maybe, instead, it’s a giant ego. 

What can you do when your co-workers drive you crazy?

Good working relationships take more than luck

While you may have lucked out in your career with having great co-workers in the past, effective working relationships – not just with your co-workers, but also with your boss and team – aren’t typically an accident. 

Instead of crossing your fingers and hoping that things will go well or get better, it is possible consciously and intentionally design your working relationships.

Designing how you’ll work together sets the parameters on how you will work together, clears assumptions, and creates trust.

Because everyone does better when we understand what behavior we expect from each other, as well as what we will do if we fail with each other.

The F word

Failure?  Why do we have to talk about that? 

Because we are human, and it happens: we mess up with each other.

Talking about failure doesn’t mean we’re predicting it. 

Instead, having a plan what we want to do when we mess up will in fact help us be more skillful during those times, perhaps even keep missteps from escalating.

Four steps to better working relationships 

1) Think about good working relationships you’ve had before.  What made them work?  What ideals or principles might you want to bring into your current working relationships?

2) Think about some current frustrations in a current working relationship.  Underneath most frustrations or complaints is a legitimate need or request.  What needs or requests do you have?

3) For a current working relationship – one that is new, on-going or could use some improvement, write out your responses to the following questions:

-What type of working culture do you want to have with your colleague?  What type of working environment would support you?

-What do you want to do – how do you want to behave – when things get difficult or you do not agree?

-What do you want to be able to count on from each other?

From your answers, what can you ask for or request, from your co-workers?

4) Bonus round: ask your co-workers to try out these steps as well.  Talk with each other about your needs and ideals: what working agreements could you create to support a positive working relationship?

Your Turn

In the comments below, I’d love to hear from you:

What tips do you have to create positive working relationships with your co-workers?

Hanna Cooper is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Christina Smith

Great article, Hanna! I’ve found it really helpful to seek the advice of my co-workers and get their opinion on different projects and ideas as often as I can…everyone enjoys being asked for help and that has really worked out well for our working relationship!

Hanna Cooper

Christina – glad that you liked it! I agree with your suggestion too: asking for help is a greatly underused way of building working relationships. Everyone likes feeling known and appreciated for their talents and knowledge, and it’s a great way to acknowledge others. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

Brenda Dennis

Never underestimate the power of coffee!! When I’m assigned to a new team or workgroup I try to take the time to buy each member a cup of coffee and visit with them for 30 minutes to establish a relationship. It is so worth it!

Hanna Cooper

Great suggestion, Brenda! Coffee is a great addition anytime, in my opinion ! : ) Seriously, getting to know people on a personal level is more than just about being “nice”. Knowing people at least a little bit will actually help you get the work done. While we don’t have to be best friends with everyone we work with, finding something to appreciate in each person helps a great deal! Thanks for commenting!

Becky Latka

Good info! Instead of coffee (see Brenda’s comment) I bring food! When I was a temporary supervisor and had bad news to deliver (a pending relocation that was under consideration), I knew donuts and fruit would help temper the frustration and let the staff know I cared.

Hanna Cooper

A little sugar does help the medicine go down, doesn’t it, Becky? Acknowledging the common humanity of situation – or sometimes just stating the obvious – is a great way to help ease people into change. Thanks for your comment!

Tom Ervasti

Learn to accept that you can run but not hide from differences. Most people are so generally enamored with their own ideas and opinions that they start believing any “reasonable” person would think the same way…right? WRONG! No matter how fond you are of the conclusions you’ve reached, your conclusions are not “the final word,” especially to others who’ve had totally different experiences. Bottom line: EXPECT everyone to be DIFFERENT than you. Be pleasantly surprised when you stumble across similarities. And finally: Lighten up. Calm down. Chill.

Hanna Cooper

Great points, Tom! I agree: effective teams (which can be as small as two people!) appreciate and leverage their differences. When we can focus the parts of an issue we can agree with (instead of expecting or waiting for consensus), our different perspectives become assets instead of something we have to “put up with”. I like how you put it: expect difference! And yes, taking a breath, having a sense of humor and not taking it personally – all excellent practices! Thanks for your insightful comment!


I went to a class on emotional intelligence many years ago, and it has stuck with me ever since. If I feel any type of anger at what a coworker is doing or saying, I analyze it first before reacting. Maybe they are having a bad day, something isn’t quite right at home and so on. If a situation persists, I will then speak to that individual in a calm manner, and let them know I don’t appreciate the comments or actions they exhibit. I’ve had too many instances where someone will do a drive-by. Meaning, if I upset someone, for whatever reason, they come to me, yell at me, then depart before I can get a word in edgewise. Not cool, and definitely not conducive to a good employee-employee relationship. Also, if I have ticked someone off due to their misconception of what I’ve done or said, I let them cool down first; it may take a day or two. I will then approach them calmly and with ernest to let them know they are important and I don’t want any angst between us. In other words, because people absolutely hate confrontation, I will be the bigger person and try to smooth the rough edges so that a cohesive continued relationship can continue.

Hanna Cooper

Absolutely, Joscelyn – thanks for sharing your insights! The basis of much of what makes things better at work is emotional intelligence. Knowing ourselves, preferences, styles, etc., first so that we can self-manage is key, like you say. And as you described, having empathy and giving others the benefit of the doubt when someone else is not operating from their best selves can help the conflict not escalate. Then letting people know about the impact of their behaviors, when enough time has passed for them to regain their thinking ability, can help provide important feedback around your needs and expectations. Thanks for taking the time to comment!