Blog Post

How to Address Poor Work Relationships

Jamie Resker

Founder: Employee Performance Solutions

In the best sense, the quality of our work relationships is meant to contribute to an "all hands on deck" mentality where everyone focuses on achieving results. In the worst sense, poor quality work relationships divert attention from results and create unseen "waste."

When thinking about waste at work some familiar tools and methodologies come to mind: Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma. These and other methods are designed to eliminate waste, increase quality and remove low value processes. The goal is to increase efficiency and output which then leads to a competitive advantage.

Thinking of work "waste" generates images of excess scrap, a partially operating production line that leaves workers milling around, unnecessary steps in a process, excess inventory and more. While the waste that comes from poor work relationships is invisible, it's just as real as the examples cited above.

What Types of Behaviors Negatively Impact Work Relationships?

Too many to list! Much of what we observe is subtle in nature:

Withholding information someone else should have

Acting unapproachable/in a bad mood

Leaving out important details

Looking good by making others look bad

Refusing to work with someone

Hoarding work that should go to others.

Whether we are an observer or directly involved it's normal to react to disruptive or unhelpful co-workers - either through Inward Experience or Outward Response. And both responses lead to waste.

The Inward Experience Response

An example of this type of response is when someone makes a comment that causes me embarrassment. My face will turn red and I'll feel my body heating up seconds before I have processed the awkward moment. My brain does this for me automatically; it is a physiological response I cannot control.

In that moment and for a period of time after, I find myself ill-equipped to think clearly. Brain resources I need for analytical thinking, problem solving, creative ideas, weighing options and more are temporarily unavailable.

I can and will move on but I've just experienced a "power outage." I'm now distracted from the task at hand. I will ruminate over the interaction and think over what I could have done differently to avoid putting myself into the position in the first place.

The Outward Experience Response

The Outward Experience response ties back to the Inward Experience response. Here's an example how:

Bob has a reputation for being "smarter than anyone else in the room" and makes it his business to find as many opportunities as possible to interrupt and discredit others. George was in the middle of talking through an idea with the team when mid-way Bob went into his "self-proclaimed expert in everything" mode.

George gets caught up in his Inward Experience: his idea went unheard and he feels disrespected. He's angry, thinks Bob is a jerk, and is disappointed that he was unable to stand up to Bob during the meeting.

He replays the incident and conjures up scenarios of how he could have put Bob in his place. He begins thinking about what to do next. Here's where the Outward Response begins to reveal itself.

The Impact

When we feel slighted, jolted or disappointed we can choose to keep our feelings bottled up while we mull them over (Inward Experience) or let them go and move on (if you are the Dali Lama you should be all set).

Usually our Inward Experience moves to an Outward Response. We take action in some way or another. Look around and you will recognize noticeable signals of an Outward Response:

Complaining to others about the incident

Time spent by others consoling the target

Manager involvement

Calling in sick for a mental health day(s)

Decrease in energy

Looking for another job

Working around the "offender"

Time spent advising those involved

Reduced commitment.

Depending on the situation some of the above outcomes may be necessary, particularly if the behavior and situation is too toxic to address on your own, it goes against organizational policies and values, or is illegal.

But in some situations it is up to us as individuals to develop the emotional intelligence to address poor work relationships on our own.

Three Ways to Develop Positive Work Relationships

Reinforce positive behaviors and outcomes - Be proactive in letting your peers know when a successful collaboration resulted in a positive outcome (e.g. project deadline met, sales deal closed, etc.). This is much more effective than pointing out past failures and missteps.

Influence - Go out of your way to get to know your peers and build stronger working relationships with them. Be helpful. Ask about the projects they are working on, the pressures they are under. Going back to the Outward Response example above, it could be that Bob feels he has to be a know-it-all because he often gets asked to step in and "fix" projects that are delayed or not running smoothly. Step in and help where you can and that can influence future interactions.

Hunt for opportunities to communicate face-to-face - As much as possible, communicate with peers face-to-face be it a formal meeting invite, popping by their desks for a quick sync or going out for coffee. Not only is face-to-face the best form of communication, it also demonstrates to your peers that they are worthy of your time.

How managers can minimize work relationship waste
You can have a high-performing employee on your team but if this person's behavior and communication style erode collaboration and productivity, it's your responsibility to address it. Observe the working relationships of this individual with his or her peers then ask:

Does this individual's work style impede or speed progress?

Would I hire the person currently in this position today?

Is this individual aware of the negative impact his or her actions are having?

Then sit down with this individual to address the impact his or her negativity has on others. Yes, verbalizing feedback on these kinds of behaviors is difficult...but it's necessary.

Be proactive in addressing poor work relationships

Comparing work relationships to the same principles as Lean and Six Sigma can get us thinking differently about a problem that feels abstract and seems invisible. Poor work relationships and unhealthy dynamics result in waste just as poor manufacturing processes produce waste.

We can choose to view work relationship breakdowns as inevitable and impossible to correct or see the opening: imagining what could, should and can be. Tactfully addressing missed expectations and talking about expected behavior is an opportunity to create a work climate that frees people to focus on results.

Whether you are a leader or an employee, you can be sure that efforts to improve work relationships and interactions will be noticed and appreciated. Look beyond the viewpoint of, "I'd rather not have this discussion with this person" to the benefits even small improvements can make.

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Great moments, shared as a team

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Great moments, shared as a team

As April whizzes past, we sit down with some of our Cornerstars, who are currently celebrating their work anniversaries, and ask them to reflect on their experiences at Cornerstone so far. In our previous blog, the focus was on the people and how it’s the employees at Cornerstone that make it such a great place to work. And this shared ethos of working together and helping each other has been talked about by each Cornerstar we’ve asked. “It’s about the teamwork, a team you can depend on, people that go the extra mile, helping and being helped. Our greatest asset is our people, I state this in every meeting I have with prospects and clients” said Max Schroeter, Regional Sales Manager at Cornerstone. Hanns Horvath, Delivery Manager, agreed and said “I like the people. They are all the best.” When we asked our Cornerstars what has been there favourite moment so far, it is no surprise that they struggled to name just one. However, the event that came up the most was Convergence. Each year we hold a conference for clients and colleagues alike to come together and connect. “Getting all our clients to come to the dancefloor and dance. It’s one of the many reasons they like coming to Cornerstone events, being able to party with the Cornerstars!” said Max Schroeter. For Christiaan Weurding, Regional Sales Manager, the overall support and activities at Cornerstone are a highlight “there is a lot of time invested in personal development, support in my daily job and great activities like development day, anniversary and Convergence.” And it’s being able to share exciting moments with their teams that drive our Cornerstars to challenge themselves. Fermin Arbea, Implementation Consultant highlights: “At Cornerstone you find a great working environment, with colleagues always willing to collaborate. Also, it is a place to find challenges where you can grow both professionally and personally.” It is this shared team spirit at Cornerstone that drives colleagues to help one another and work together to generate success. Oliver Normand Account Manager Strategic, EMEA said “it was a great team success when, after 18 months of negotiation, we signed an important contract with one of our major clients in Europe.” Overall, it is this shared culture that drive our Cornerstars to succeed. Fermin Arbea believes that “the greatest moments are ones that we share among the whole team, collaborating with initiatives in which we can help other people. These are moments in which we all unite a little more and return home with a shared smile.”

Liggy Webb mood boosters and how to feel better in stormy times

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Liggy Webb mood boosters and how to feel better in stormy times

2020 has been a challenge for most and as much as we were very hopeful about 2021, it feels like a déjà vu. Lockdowns everywhere, the “new norm” seems like it is here to stay, face masks and hand sanitiser. We have had to learn to be resilient, it is not so much about hoping things get back to normal, but to adapt and embrace change as part of our daily routine. It is here to stay. Why is my boss in my living-room? Liggy Webb has been sharing some incredible ideas with us on how to embrace wellbeing, kindness and stay mentally healthy during this pandemic. Organisations need to champion these behaviors too. We have seen HR departments embrace our free online content modules; especially the pieces around wellbeing and health, which were the most requested courses, as my colleague Mark Lamswood shared with us in his piece “Why content… and why now?”. The line between work and life has disappeared, for those that can work remotely – and whilst we are thankful for that, it can be hard to find balance in our lives. Is this the responsibility of an employer, though? To a certain extent, it really should be. Questions around resources have been circling for some time now, do we have a laptop for every kid to connect to online classes? Do we have a spare office in the home to work? Who will take care of the kids if both parents are working remotely? Why is my boss in my living-room? Constant Zoom calls, webcams on, screaming children in the background and the lack of privacy are taking a toll on us. Here are some positives to this new cozy office set-up: I have to confess I am not embarrassed to put the webcam on while in my pyjamas with certain colleagues and the conversations around hairstyles, pets and home décor have brought us together. Please – send help! Stress used to be a big one. Non-stop travelling, meetings all day, commuting to the office and then – if time was left - your private life. Now all those different departments of our existence, have been squeezed in one home for almost a year and stress is even more acute than it used to be. “Worrying about contracting Covid-19, feeling lonely, and not thinking positively were all strongly associated with how anxious and depressed people became.” BMJ Open report In a nutshell, we are more stressed than ever. We are worrying about survival. More vulnerable to fall into unhealthy habits and the uncertainty of not knowing when and if this will be over is not helping. As Dr. Sarah Campbell explained in this video not everyone has the resources to adapt to this massive change and HR departments can help. But let us look in the mirror first and own our responsibilities. Walk the talk – together | This is not a one-size-fits-all approach but there are plenty of little things we can do! Using Liggy as my main inspiration – this is what has worked for me: Show some teeth | As lame as it may sound, I am reminding myself to smile each day. A great way to do so is by creating an e-coffee or e-lunch call with some of the team members and chat about anything BUT work. Or join a laughter group, like this one here created by a artist friend of mine called “Laughter Yoga for Creatives” in which we connect, turn the webcam on and do laugh therapy together. See the sky | Some of the lockdown rules are very strict and we do not all have the same space at home. But having a dog forces you to make that commitment to go for a walk every day. Make that commitment to yourself if you don’t have a pet, book the time in your diary and stretch, meditate, dance in the shower to your favorite tune. Studies show sedentarism is bad for your health. Get a standing desk, sit on an exercise ball or even better – get Stand Up! The Work Break Timer. Eyeliner to start the day | I am a feminist but … starting the day with lipstick and eyeliner makes me a better feminist. And it really does! It helps me get into the office mood and to not panic when I am asked to turn the camera on.  Be kind | To boost my mood and give back I am always creating online donation campaigns for causes that are dear to my heart. It keeps me busy with something different to work, it connects me with other people that feel the same and it helps me channel my energy into something positive. Join us too! Start your joruney and boost your mood in this turbulent moment! Get your e-book for free today here and share your experience with us along the way!

Lockdown life: Volunteering and working from home

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Lockdown life: Volunteering and working from home

Sunday Session at Harmony Gardens - Drone picture by Maxime Fazilleau On a random Saturday last year, I discovered Blue House Yard in Wood Green, London. This is an unexpected place in North London, close to where I live. A red double-decker has been converted into a board games café and taproom. Small timber work sheds house local businesses selling candles, clothes, jewellery and books. Blue House Yard and Edible London market - Picture by Maxime Fazilleau I was curious, so I went to investigate and found there were tables covered with boxes of colourful vegetables and fruits in the middle of the place. I was only passing by, but the seller asked if I wanted to try one of the tomatillos and I could not resist! It was refreshing and spicy at the same time. After a few minutes of conversation, I was so inspired by their story that I ended up buying my veg and fruit from Edible London in Blue House Yard that day. And I came back! But this time I discovered fruity chocolates, organic vegetables, pea shoots and jams all organically grown by incubated businesses. After two weeks of loyal shopping, I was invited by Sunny, the energetic and mindful CEO of Edible London (, to visit the greenhouse where volunteers of all ages, cultures and background grow some of the organic products. I went, for a simple visit, to volunteer for five hours that afternoon, and was taught about sowing tomatoes seeds and I learnt that they were heritage seeds and only grown organically. The following week, a friend tells me about Edible London – what are the chances! - and the work they do. Sunny, and his team are not only growing food but also organising cook ups for the Haringey community. A few days every month, they cook and invite people going through housing difficulties to enjoy heart-warming meals and a chat. Before I realised it, I was volunteering and was asked if I could help start a new project which was to create a place where Edible London could and grow more food. Obviously, I accepted. When COVID-19 started, Edible London was still operating normally. But when the lockdown was announced, Sunny decided to form a small team to prepare hampers for people who could not move from their homes. As I was working full time from home, I decided to help around my working hours – but this time behind my screen. I started looking for volunteers to prepare the hampers and deliver them. And thanks to a networking app here in the UK, we got around 20 recruits in a day! Today, Edible London is made of about 20 admins, 15 facilitators and a pool of 350 volunteers. We had to train different teams for the integration, write and create processes, online documents and FAQ for volunteers to understand what to do. We operate from two main food hubs in the council of Haringey: Alexandra Palace - the people's Palace - and one of the underground parking spaces of the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. But what is it that we are doing? Let me give you a rough idea: Food sourcing! We have teamed up with one of the big vegetables and fruit markets in London and they provide us with a few pallets of unsold food every day, that would go to waste otherwise. We also get food donations from lots of different business that believe in our vision too. Logistic and Hub! The amazing logistic team gets the different pallets and redirects them to the food hub where the magic happens. The Quality Team volunteers verify the products. This is a very important part of the process as we need to ensure good quality food goes to the hampers preparation that will be distributed to self-isolated people who cannot afford to go out. But we use all of the products and so, the food of normal quality goes to different organisations which can cook meals the same day. Vegetables and fruits that cannot be used to cook can be taken by volunteers or sent to our growing site for compost creation to be used on our growing sites. Ready to pack? Our volunteers prepare hampers of good vegetables and fruits mainly that will be handed over to the Council who is managing the distribution. The rest of the food goes for meals to shelters, food banks and key workers. But we also need to keep our hardworking volunteers healthy – and so we all eat together and make sure nothing goes to waste. Two of my favourite initiatives are the Bikers Community and the Upcycling system. The Bikers for the Community comes to the Food hub to collect meals and essentials, and take it to the streets of North London, stopping for every houseless person they see. Our Upcycling initiative involved the creation of furniture and art from the packaging by our volunteers to feel like home. EcoBricks are made and will be used later in one of our growing projects. Volunteers even ran a zero-waste fashion show, where they used packaging to create their outfits. To go from six to 350 volunteers in ten weeks has been a BIG task – believe me! Many hours and tears have gone into making this happen. Respecting health and safety with the 2m distancing rule and wearing masks did not make it any easier. But we did it! This adventure has shown me what we can do with an army of volunteers. The energy and motivation are high, and our core team is always ready for a new day. I found purpose and a community in this very difficult time – being isolated at home alone is not easy. I am glad I joined Edible London and at the same time find solidarity and hope. Thanks to my previous work experience, I know how to map a process and create communication channels. I also know what it is to be a volunteer and know what to expect from the team. With Cornerstone, I have learnt to communicate effectively – I am a French native – understand the issues fast in order to deploy solution, but most importantly, I have discovered that there is always space to learn, ask questions and be included. Delegating work to new volunteers joining the adventure is my biggest challenge, as trust is important, and it cannot be built in a few hours. But here at Cornerstone we have a culture in which we accept failure as part of our success, and in this instance, I can shadow the teams and let them make mistakes, so they understand the logic behind the processes and so we can all work as a team. Don’t let others stop you from doing good for the community. Teach them to build a resilient one instead.

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