Six months after Sarah Thomas [name changed to protect identity] joined a consultancy firm as a junior level employee, she was assigned to work on an important project with a more experienced co-worker. Unfortunately, after repeated attempts to get him to shoulder his part of the job, she gave up in despair. "He was always in a meeting or too busy to help," she says. "I realised that he expected me to do most of the grunt work and I felt it was most unfair. However, it was my first project. I didn't want to mess it up and that only added to the frustration, but I simply couldn't get him to understand that we needed to work as a team to do this right."
Finally, when she had exhausted every way of subtly conveying the message, Sarah decided to take a more direct approach. "Instead of moping around feeling victimised, I decided I needed to speak my mind, albeit with courtesy" she says. So, she printed out all the material that had to be completed from his end and picked an opportune moment to confront him with it. "He would occasionally have lunch meetings with the head of our department. I quietly walked in on one such meeting, handed over his folder and mentioned that I had completed my share of the work, but the rest would require his expertise. I also made it clear how much I would enjoy working together as a team and hoped he would find time to fit me in." After some initial surprise, Sarah's co-worker eventually cooperated and the project was successfully completed.
Experts believe that being frank and open at the workplace can successfully resolve some of the niggling day-to-day problems that threaten your harmony. In many instances, speaking your mind can work in your favour. "Most people tend to bottle up their emotions, especially in a formal working scenario, because they are afraid to speak out. However, it is here that you need to be frank and honest in all dealings," says Sabith Kishore, a New Delhi-based career counsellor. "An office is often a microcosm of the world at large. You will encounter many personalities or circumstances here that may cause you undue stress or even affect your productivity. In such situations, a direct and yet diplomatic approach without being confrontational works best."
Don't be a professional martyr
When Arjun Bhose, a graphic designer whose job required intense concentration, found himself seated next to a rowdy bunch of co-workers, he found that his efficiency was slipping and his boss was not pleased with the plummeting quality of his work. "The company ran a BPO and the unit was positioned right next to the communication department, where I sat," he says. "I couldn't concentrate with all the racket the department made throughout the day, but since I thought it was churlish to complain, I never mentioned it." It was a decision that almost cost him his job. "My boss couldn't understand why my performance had slipped so badly. It wasn't until he decided to pay me a visit at my cubicle that he spotted the problem. If it weren't for this chance incident, I probably would've been fired." As it turned out, Arjun's cubicle was shifted to a quieter spot and his performance gradually improved. He has now vowed to speak out more, especially in situations when it matters most. Often, we keep our feelings bottled up, either fearing people's reactions or assuming that we won't be heard. Little do we realise however, that this could turn out to be more damaging.
"Simmering away silently over small issues can raise blood pressure and snowball these problems unnecessarily," says Chennai-based psychologist Dr Emma Watson. "It's better to be transparent in all your dealings and to expect the same from others. It creates a situation that is less stressful and more professional."
It's a fact that most people spend more time at the workplace than at home, with their own families. So how do you create an open and easy relationship with the people around you? Effective communication coupled with tolerance, experts say, is the key to nurturing workplace relationships. Here are some tips:
Be courteous, yet firm
If a colleague is not doing his share or is taking you for granted, let her know, gently and firmly. Don't be anyone's doormat. Strike a balance between submissive timidity and unnecessary aggressiveness.
Don't scatter your words
Incessant complaining about your grievances to anyone who will lend you an ear can seriously damage your reputation. However, you cannot ignore issues that affect your productivity or threaten the integrity of your workplace. In such cases, ensure that your complaint is heard by the right person at the right time.
Retain your composure
Ensure that you are calm at all times and your only goal is to resolve the issue amicably. Getting visibly upset will only shift focus away from the problem at hand.
Try the direct approach
Try to handle minor issues directly with the people concerned. If such a solution isn't possible through a frank direct approach, then think of involving a mutual friend, who can be fair to both parties. Don't approach a supervisor or authority figure in the first instance or you might end up making enemies out of colleagues. Handle each situation with sensitivity. However, do not hesitate to report more serious issues to your boss immediately.
Don't hesitate to tell the truth
Grave issues such as harassment tend to be swept under the carpet. If you are troubled by a colleague's misbehaviour, don't think twice about reporting the incident to your supervisor or boss. "Sympathy in these cases is often badly misplaced," says Kishore. "If a colleague is invading your private space or making you feel uncomfortable in any way, bring the incident to the attention of a higher authority. Even if he is fired, at least you can rest assured that he will not be able to repeat his behaviour with someone else."
Use warmth and humour to diffuse tense situations
As in all relationships, certain habits and traits that your colleagues have could unduly irritate, especially if you spend a lot of time with them. In such cases, temper action with tolerance.
"I had a colleague who was constantly falling sick," says Savita, a 34-year-old IT professional based in Bangalore. "He would sit next to me and cough and sneeze all over my monitor and keyboard. I would hate it, but simmered in silence for many months. It just grew worse and there were days when I would dread going to office." It was then that Savita used her trademark humour to defuse the situation. "I brought five boxes of tissues to the office one day and taped tissues all over his desk," she laughs. "I also brought in a small umbrella and unfolded it over my monitor. He got the message and he wasn't in the least bit offended!"
Remember, a frank and easy camaraderie in your relationships with colleagues can make for a healthy, lasting and fun-filled career.
Whether an employee or employer, you can do a lot to encourage frank interaction at work:
Install suggestion boxes: If there is a suggestion box in your office, use it to voice your thoughts. If you're an employer, ensure that you have a suggestion box installed in every department and that your employees know that it is being taken seriously. Alternatively, you can set up an email ID to which employees can forward their comments or thoughts about any work-related issue. You can't believe everything you read of course, since most prejudice and exaggeration tend to be very common human traits, however, you can take comments with a pinch of salt to get at the truth. Don't encourage anonymous comments or letters which can often be vicious, but ensure your team that their views will be kept confidential.
Set up regular informal meetings outside the office: Ensure that all employees get to know one another. This can only be done through interactions outside of the formal office sphere. Set up picnics or movie meets. If you're an employee, ensure that you attend these social get-togethers. Take interest in genuinely interacting with your colleagues.
Set an example: Mahatma Gandhi once said, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." Be frank and open in your dealings, encourage discussions and take criticism well and that's exactly what you'll receive in turn.
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