We walked out into the parking lot, heading towards a fenced in, shaded area. My boss was in search of a park bench located near a newly renovated Victorian-style Airbnb, usually open to the public. Our weekly check-ins were usually over Zoom, but we both happened to be in the office that time. 

They seemed to be on a mission to find an outdoor location to talk. I slowed my breathing. I felt like I trusted my new boss and my other new colleagues, but I was hesitant to open up about what I was going through. I knew it was affecting my ability to work and I wanted to communicate that in case it became disruptive. Moving past the park bench – the entryway had been blocked off – we continued down the sidewalk. “Maybe we can try the tea cafe across the street”, my boss suggested.

I thought of past experiences with another boss. Facing them with no one else present had become too stressful. I resorted to having meetings only if they were in the same room with another colleague. I didn’t think this situation would be the same, but work relationships had unexpectedly changed for the worse before. The tea place wasn’t open. We headed over to the cross walk. My boss pointed out some public benches near a small monument, not far from the intersection. I had been wanting to speak up and since we were out of the office, this would be the time to try. We finished our check in and, my boss asked if there was anything else I wanted to chat about. My gaze drifted to the bench adjacent to us, blurring slightly. I took a breath and tried to balance my emotions. “I think, there’s something that it would probably be good for you to know…”

This article is the end of my series on Navigating Relationships at Work. In my last article, Navigating Relationships at Work: Reading the Signs…and Responding to Them I discussed ways to recognize and respond to unhealthy relationships at work. In this article, I would like to focus on healthy relationships.

We all know what it’s like to have personal issues creep into our professional lives – which can impact our job performance.

Fortunately, because of the healthy relationship I cultivated with my boss, I was able to explain what I was going through. It wasn’t easy, but it was up to me to try to navigate these circumstances in a healthy way. So, what made me feel comfortable enough to open up to my boss? Let’s talk about it.

Emotional Intelligence: Work is An Emotional Place

How we show up in our workplace – how we treat people and what we accomplish – all starts with our relationship to ourselves. This is where emotional intelligence comes in.

While there is no psychometric scale for emotional intelligence (EI), it is used to describe our ability to manage our emotions and the emotions of others. When we can understand what is influencing our emotions and how our emotions are influencing behaviour, we are in a much better position to navigate work relationships, where emotions inevitably come into play. Various parts of the work experience might evoke strong emotions, like: expected changes, limited resources, high demands, deadlines, receiving or providing feedback, etc. Personal issues in the workforce also impact the emotional landscape at work. EI improves the way we handle these circumstances.

In workplaces with high levels of EI, staff tend to enjoy their jobs more and be more productive, which is not just good for the workers, it’s also good for the bottom line. There are many ways to build EI skills, including learning how to manage stress at work and developing self-awareness.

 This article from Positive Psychology.com explains more about EI and gives some detailed examples.

Communication to decrease stress

Communications is an important part of any relationship, and I think we all know how tricky it can be in the workplace. When communication isn’t working, productivity is hindered and that increases stress. I think one of the best things you can do is talk about the communication that you have in your workplace. Let colleagues know how their methods of communication are helpful to you. If it’s not working so well, it’s probably causing frustration for the other person as well. Rather than bottling the frustration, have a conversation about it. Perhaps brainstorm a few ideas that can help you communicate better.

Setting your boundaries and their expectations

Like communication styles, behaviours that worked in one company culture may not be suited to another. It takes time to adjust to this and set proper boundaries. While it’s important to be flexible, it’s helpful to maintain some consistency. So, if you set boundaries, explain your reasons why and stick to them. If those boundaries are going to change permanently, or under specific circumstances, be clear about that. It’s hard to build a stable relationship when you have no idea what to expect.

Don’t be afraid to be the first person to ask if your communication or behaviours impact the other person, even if you think they should be the one to bring it up. Taking the first step towards something better is worth it.

Conclusion: Intentionality within relationships

Much of our time may be spent working, so the impact of relationships we have at work cannot be underestimated. In this particular circumstance, my work life enriched my personal life, which was a blessing. My coworkers’ positive energy helped me through an extremely emotional time. During particularly hard weeks, I would be doing research one minute, and have the screen blurred by tears in the next. But interacting with my co-workers, even virtually, really helped to uplift me.

The best things we can do is be intentional. Intentionality can help us navigate healthy and unhealthy work environments, and improve our overall level of wellbeing. Of course, we’ll make mistakes with relationships at work. We might not know how to handle things well, and to be honest, we know there have been times when we didn’t make our best effort. But that’s okay. 

That’s human. That’s just part of navigating relationships at work.