What I Learned About Workplace Relationships


When it comes to getting along with colleagues in the workplace, many people have different styles to go about it.

There’s the “always good towards every single person” kind of approach, which is tiring and not always rewarding (not everyone likes a “nice guy/girl” as a colleague).

Or the “passive corner desk, just going about my own stuff” person, who only talks whenever necessary. And even when he or she participates in a company affair, it’s very limited.

Some “too cool to socialise with anyone who is not beneficial to him or her” are the more loathsome ones, but they often get away with it because they’re very politically savvy.

Of course, there are even more – countless more. But we’re not here to explore all the (often hilarious) types of colleagues.

I’ve tried the first and second approaches, that’s why it sounds so specific; and I’ve come across the third type of people, which is how I came to that realisation.

But I want to share some principles I’ve lived by (and worked for me, at least) in the past few years that could potentially help anyone struggling with workplace relationships.

Greet everyone

It might sound very much like the first approach – being nice to everyone – but there’s some nuance to this. Let me explain.

Greeting everyone, including the janitors and cleaning staff, humbles me, and it shows others that I’m approachable. And this is especially if I have people under me.

Even as a junior employee, greeting everyone sends signals to others and my superiors that I’m socially aware – this is not school where we can just ignore acquaintances and not be affected.

In the workplace, we’ll need need to depend on everyone at some point in our career or day-to-day work, and when the time comes, it would be awkward if we’ve ignored that person in the walkway up until that point.

Of course, be genuine when you greet and don’t just do it half-heartedly – people can tell.

Don’t gossip

Contrary to what some experienced workers would tell you (that gossipping earns you allies against a common enemy), gossipping about anyone in the office – peer, subordinate, superior, boss, etc. – does more harm than good.

This is taking the second approach – just mind your own business at work – but in a good way.

When there’s something that requires engagement with others – birthday cake cutting, lunches, after-office parties, work-outs before/after work – I would do it like how I would with friends.

But when I know someone or a group of people notorious for gossipping starts it, I would pull back or even excuse myself.

Because I know gossipping tends to be biased and sometimes, it can “corrupt” my impression of someone, so I choose to be even ignorant about gossip content.

Also, I like to look at gossipping as an activity of boredom and unproductivity – think about the nosy housewives at the market place or middle-aged workers whose careers have stagnated.

Criticise tactfully

Whether is it criticising downwards (a subordinate) or upwards (a superior or boss), do it with extreme tact.

The real challenge is doing it downwards, of course, since it’s usually hard for one to recall one’s earlier days as an inexperienced rookie who commits many (silly) mistakes.

There’s always this urge to just dismiss a less experienced or more junior person to feel better about myself – when I was in his/her position, I knew better, did more, and had it tougher.

But I’ve learned that true satisfaction comes when you’ve coached someone to become better and he/she acknowledges your efforts.

Hell, if he or she surpasses me, I would be even happier because that means I’ve done a good job is imparting my knowledge and shortening the time and difficulty of his or her learning.

For superiors and bosses, not criticising at all is easy. But criticising tactfully would prove that you’re not just valuable in that you’re offering a better way to do things than now, but also a good communicator.

Superiors and bosses who are serious about grooming me would take the tactful criticism and put it to good use – maybe improve himself or herself, or change things for the better.

(Maybe more on this in another article about leadership.)

Not perfect

Of course, what works for me might not work for everyone because of how each company has its own unique culture.

But I believe the principles can be moulded into many different shapes to fit the right situation.

About the author

Vance Wong

Brain-picker. Cinephile. Koreaboo.


by Vance Wong


Vance Wong

Brain-picker. Cinephile. Koreaboo.