Workplace Relationships
Productivity through people
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Why You Should Spend More Time Thinking About Respectful Relationships in the Workplace and 10 Ways to Foster Respect

“And that’s it?” I questioned as the boss summarised some issues with two employees.

“That’s it!” he claimed.

On first hearing, it seemed that I had been called in for a trivial argument between two employees that was really over nothing: Things moved from shelves, items borrowed from files, not listening to answers, sabotaging work, snapping conversations. I was over-seeing a mediation. The tension between the pair was hostile to say the least, all staff were affected, the bosses were bemused and ultimately, customers were being affected by the inability of the employees to communicate with each other in their roles which was a vital element of the service the customer needed.

“How long has this been a problem?” I asked, hoping the relationship breakdown had just occurred…

alack, no such luck!

It seemed the relationship had been on the decline for a number of years. Other staff had it on their ‘list of cons’ as they weighed up if they wanted to leave the company! It had just reached crisis point as shouting and foul language was brought into play. The tension could not be ignored any longer!

The bosses of this company were at a loss. They valued both workers. They needed them to be able to work cooperatively together and they couldn’t understand how things had gotten so out of hand.

Unfortunately, this is not a rare case.

It really is the little things that make a difference in ANY relationship. Just like your husbands socks on the bathroom floor and the kids leaving the fridge door open. The little things add up and annoy - wayyyy beyond where they should… when I would yell at my kids to shut the fridge door, I attached so much significance to that 5 second action….

the fridge won’t be effective cooling the food…more electricity means I’ll have to pay more when I shouldn’t have to…the food will go off…you’ll moan that the yoghurt tastes funny…do you know how hard I work for the money that your refusal to close that fridge door is causing! I tell you every time but you just won’t do what I ask…you NEVER listen….

and on it can go - in my head if they’re lucky - out loud if I’m having a bad day!

Yet the truth is…it’s just not a priority to them.

That’s it!

It’s nothing about me…it’s about them, grabbing the food and getting back to whatever they were doing before their stomach grumbled and not nudging the door shut.

And we do it in the workplace too!

‘Borrowing’ the stapler that now sits in your draw, leaving mugs on the side instead of in the dishwasher…little things that just annoy.

We need to be more respectful in our approach to our workplace relationships - in fact all our relationships. Realising the impact of a thoughtless action or comment can be very powerful in changing how people connect with you, how you engage with others and set the tone or culture of a workplace. Simon Sinek explains it beautifully in his book “Leaders Eat Last - Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t”. we need to be in a ‘circle of safety’ if we are to pull together, work most effectively and thrive.

Here are 10 tips to lining up your ducks by creating Respectful Relationships At Work:

Develop Trust – allows you to be open and honest with your thoughts and actions. Don’t need to ‘watch your back’, but there is a safe atmosphere of open dialogue.

Mutual Respect – valuing others’ input and having your input valued.

Mindfulness – Take responsibility for your words and actions. Think about your reactions to others. Always think “What is the impact OF MY behaviour” before considering the impact ON you. Could changing MY behaviour create the change I wish to see?

Welcome Diversity – if someone has a different opinion, consider it. Understand that not everyone thinks as you do – and that’s ok. Studies show the most effective teams have diversity which enables many strengths and perspectives to be utilised in the process of working together.


Clear Communication – the more effectively you communicate, the better your relationship will be. Clarify what you have heard and allow people to ask questions.

Be positive – people will enjoy their time with you if you can be positive. Negativity can be a real energy drain. This does not mean we can’t question things and have robust discussion; question to understand not undermine!


Appreciate Others – genuine compliments or thanks for good work or helping you are essential for strengthening relationships. Most employees highlight recognition of good work is an essential factor engaging and motivating them.

Manage your boundaries – remember this is a work place not a social event. Friendships ‘taking over’ or creating cliques can cause tension. A ‘joke’ is not a joke if it is at the expense of someone or makes someone feel uncomfortable.

Avoid Gossip – talk directly to the person involved if you have an issue with them and seek to understand what has happened rather than jumping to conclusions. Don’t take on other people’s arguments.

Listen Actively – We all crave to be heard and understood. Focus on listening more than you talk and you’ll gain trust. Plus, when you do speak it will have more impact too!

Do not wait…look at the culture of your company. How are people interacting over the little things?

By developing respectful relationships and keeping these little things in check…we are prepared to tackle the big things together, we are lining up our ducks, within the ‘circle of safety’ and we are not being attacked from within!

Jo O’Donovan is the founder of Workplace Relationships, based in Melbourne. She works with companies to increase their productivity through focusing on their culture, people and relationships. Jo has a particular passion for improving the mental health of employees through developing the human connections within organisations and her new online course on Mental Health In The Workplace can be accessed here.

Jo O'Donovan