Take a moment and think about the defining experiences that challenged you most when working with peers. How would you characterize the way you and your colleagues (past or present) have worked together? Along the way, you’ve probably encountered rude or abrasive behavior that has diminished your confidence, lowered your willingness to actively engage with your peers, and negatively impacted your sense of belonging and/or appreciation.
Unsurprisingly, studies show that rudeness stops people from working together. Those who experience negative behavior are “less likely to seek or accept feedback and less likely to experiment, discuss errors, and speak up about potential or actual problems,” finds Christine Porath, an author and Associate Professor of Management at George University. They don’t share information as readily and stop seeking help from their teammates.
According to GoodTherapy.org, “Workplace issues can lead to decreased performance/productivity, loss of job/termination, decreased satisfaction/happiness, stress, and a wide variety of mental health issues.” Common workplace issues that employees face include interpersonal conflict, communication problems, and bullying.
So what to do when things get tense?
“Acknowledge, acknowledge, acknowledge,” says Corporate Wellness Coach, Licensed Occupational Therapist, and Certified Ergonomist Jessica May Tang of Damon Wellness Consulting. “In my experience, employees stop working with each other when they do not feel valued or heard. As a leader or as another employee, it’s important to let others know that you hear and value them. It can be as simple as a statement of thanks for that great idea or their great work.”
Career Advancement Coach Lauren Milligan of ResuMAYDAY says “I’ve found that my clients make decisions to cut a relationship when trust is broken. A few examples: when a coworker takes credit for someone else’s idea; when a boss promises a raise and fails to deliver; when a service provider pulls a bait-and-switch with pricing.”
Regardless, all experts agree that practicing mindfulness is essential in building and sustaining healthy, productive work relationships. “In experiments I’ve done, I’ve found that once people are exposed to rudeness, they are three times less likely to help others and their willingness to share drops by more than half,” notes Porath. “A little civility goes a long way, enhancing a team’s performance by increasing the amount of psychological safety that people feel.”
As a leader, it’s important to model respectful behavior and create a civil climate to enable greater collaboration. Keep an eye on how your employees work together and communicate with employees to create accountability. Make a mental note to talk to those you notice is overly critical, thoughtlessly puts down others, or questions another worker’s capabilities.