How to Establish and Maintain Positive Workplace Relationships

Recent college graduates and current students may have worked part-time jobs or internships, but your first full-time professional job is a different ball game. Most Americans spend more waking hours at work than at home, so making a good impression and learning to navigate the workplace is essential.

Christina Steinorth, a licensed psychotherapist based out of Santa Barbara, offers her advice on how to establish and maintain positive relationships at work. Steinorth is the author of Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships. Her advice has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Cosmopolitan Magazine, The Huffington Post, Woman’s Day, Fox News, websites including WebMD, Askmen, SheKnows, Lifetime Moms, GalTime and Made Men.

“The job market is very tough right now and will probably stay that way for the foreseeable future,” Steinorth said. “Therefore, it’s important to be the best you possibly can be. Hone your skills, act in a professional manner, do your job, be punctual, have good attendance and exercise good people skills—your career and future depend on these things if you plan to advance.”

Question: What workplace etiquette should first-time job-searchers and new hires be aware of?

Steinorth: Be respectful of your supervisor, your co-workers, and try your best to adhere to your company’s policies and procedures. What I mean specifically by respectful is to practice good social skills—say “Good Morning, please, and thank you.” In addition, be respectful of your company’s time. Show up when you’re supposed to, and don’t spend work hours on the phone, texting or surfing social media sites. Last but not least, if you struggle with an attitude of entitlement, know that it will not get you far at all. Be humble, be willing to work, be willing to learn and open to constructive criticism.

Question: Those new to the workplace often experience anxiety in regards to overcoming the learning curve. What types of behaviors should they avoid while learning on the job?

Steinorth: I think the biggest thing to avoid is pretending like you know everything—this could get in a lot of trouble very fast. It’s quite natural to want to fit in when you start working some place new, but it’s important not to make assumptions about policies and procedures. Every workplace has a set way of doing things—from answering the phone and opening mail, to dealing with customers and fellow employees. Companies develop policies and procedures based on what works best for their company. Don’t ever assume you just know how to handle things. You need to handle them the way your company wants you to. At the end of the day you will have less anxiety if you do your job right. No one expects you to know everything when you just start out, so don’t be afraid to ask. You’d be surprised how many people will actually be willing to help you.

Question: What types of workplace relationship “cue cards” project the best image to make you successful on the job?

Steinorth recommended the following tips:

  • Don’t slack off or goof off at your job. Learn your job responsibilities, and exercise common sense if you’re asked to do something that doesn’t specifically fall into your job description. (Employers can always spot and employee who passes the buck or goofs off—don’t be one of them.)
  • Be Punctual and Be Prompt. Get to where you’re supposed to be on time and meet deadlines. Tardiness is a reflection of your ability to do your job effectively and manage your time.
  • Take Responsibility for Your Actions. Show that you are able to accept constructive criticism and don’t shift the blame to others as an excuse for poor performance.

Question: What are some general office interpersonal relationship do’s and don’ts?

  • Do: Make eye contact. Making eye contact lets others know you are interested in what they have to say.
  • Do: Really try to get along with others.You don’t need to love your co-workers, but you should really try to get along with them.
  • Do: Refrain from foul language. While foul language may be acceptable to use around your friends, it really has no place in the workplace.
  • Do: Leave your personal life at home. You are getting paid to do a job, not work out any difficulties you may be having with your spouse, boyfriend or babysitter.
  • Don’t: Dress inappropriately—if you have to ask yourself “I wonder if it’s okay if I wear this to work?” then it probably isn’t.
  • Don’t: Be a personal space invader—people will generally stand the distance from you that they are comfortable with.
  • Don’t: Get in the way of other doing their job. If you talk too much or are disruptive in other ways, you disturb your fellow co-workers and make the less productive.
  • Question: For many recent graduates new to the professional world, the workplace easily becomes your social scene. What limits should you set?

    Steinorth: Probably the most important limit is to try as hard as you can not to get romantically involved with your fellow co-workers or supervisors. I know this is somewhat old advice, but it’s still relevant. Workplace romances are difficult to manage because what happens when they don’t work out? You’re still forced to work with each other on a daily basis and let’s face it—you may have had a pretty bad breakup and it’s going to be a pretty uncomfortable thing to do. Plus, are you really ready to watch someone you were once involved with fall in love with someone else? You can avoid all of this by keeping your romantic life separate from your work life. That said, I understand that affairs of the heart don’t always respond to logical reasoning–so, if you feel you absolutely must date someone in your workplace, try to keep it as discrete as possible.

    Question: When it comes to social media, should you “friend” or “follow” your boss and coworkers?

    It’s okay to friend and follow your boss and coworkers, but just use a filter to what you post (something you should do regardless of who you friend). Remember that once you post something on the Internet, it’s really hard if not impossible to remove it—it’s kind of like putting toothpaste back in the tube. You can destroy your career in a couple of posts, so it’s important to think before you put any potentially compromising information out there.

    Question: What is your advice on avoiding office politics but remaining engaged in company culture?

    Steinorth: My advice is to avoid any type of gossip where someone is going to get hurt. It’s okay to talk and gossip about celebrities, and current events, but really try to stay away from talking about supervisors and co-workers. Engage in potluck lunches, go to holiday parties and join in on birthday celebrations, just stay away from harmful gossip.

    Question: If you encounter interpersonal conflict, what is the best way to move forward?

    Steinorth: The best way to deal with interpersonal conflict is to try to directly and privately work it out with the person you’re having an issue with. Be careful in your word choice so you don’t inflame the situation. Saying, “I can’t stand you. I think you’re an awful person.” is much different from saying, “I sense a little tension between us and I’d like us to work it out privately, can you help me with that?” Most people will be willing to compromise and work with you when you don’t put them on the defensive. If you are unable to resolve the issue directly with the person you’re having the problem with, ask to speak with your supervisor privately about the issue and ask for his or her help in resolving it. Employers want their employees to be happy—it makes for a more productive workforce—your employer will most likely help you in any way he/she can.

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