10 Habits That Will Build Or Ruin Relationships With Your Co-Workers

The school holidays are almost over and everyone is begrudgingly heading back to work ready to greet their colleagues with a cordial “Happy New Year!” even if having a break from them for a few weeks was the best part of last year.

Co-worker relationships can be tricky things. Building them involves an intricate balancing act of disclosing and hiding information about yourself that you’d never need to worry about with close friends. Ruining them can be as easy as challenging someone in a team meeting and result in eternal torment every day in the lunch room!

Conflict in the workplace is inevitable, but you can still develop some great new psychological strategies to help you connect with your co-workers with minimal effort so that 2020 can be a year of success.

There are healthy and unhealthy ways to connect with people at work. While some of the unhealthy ways may seem quicker, they are rarely sustainable in the long-term and don’t help to foster relationships of respect.

Let’s look at the quickest ways to ruin and build relationships with you colleagues and some psychological techniques you can use starting today!

Unhelpful Strategies For Building Relationships With Co-workers

A Fake Charm Offensive

habits to build ruin relationships coworkers charm cadence psychologyBlame pickup artistry or just good old fashioned narcissism, but a sure-fire way distance your colleagues is trying to turn on the charm when it’s not natural for you.

There might be a wealth of self-help books telling you how to play the game these days, but the reality is that real charisma comes from healthy self-esteem rather than tricks. Most of us unfortunately just aren’t all that charismatic. Attempting to fake this will generally come across as disingenuous and tend to make people recoil.

A poorly performed attempt at being charming also runs the risk of coming across as arrogant. The best bet is to do the best you can with your genuine self.

Self Sacrificing

Another sure-fire way to struggle with building connections at work is self-sacrificing. Sure, everyone likes the person in the office that will do those odd tasks for you, or brings in treats from home every now and then, but if this is the foundation of your relationships you have created a connection that is conditional on giving.

Across time this habit is likely to create resentment towards your co-workers as you will probably not see your constant giving reciprocated. But more importantly, it’s unsustainable! Eventually you will become burnt out trying to look after your own responsibilities and those of your colleagues.

Violating Trust

Trust is fundamental for any healthy long-term relationship. The emphasis here is on long-term. If your aim is to slash and burn your way through you career then you may not value building trust. However, this is not only a strategy with questionable efficacy from a career progression perspective; it is also going to create a world of stress for you.

Building trust can be scary. It requires you to provide a little piece of your authentic self. But research shows that people and companies that build trust are generally more referred to and have greater success in the long-term.

To get things start try just sharing one thing that you loved this week. It might be a meal you had, or a song you heard, but you’ll be starting to connect with co-workers in a genuine way. 

Gossiping To Get Attention

habits to build ruin relationships coworkers gossip cadence psychologyHabits like gossiping can seem like a shortcut to getting where you want to go in terms of having co-workers listen to you, but much like violating trust, it’s a short-term win at best.

Take a minute to think about the office gossip. Do you share with them? Do you want to spend time with them? You might enjoy hearing that juicy thing they swear they overheard, but you definitely don’t want to work with them

Stepping back from workplace gossip is about committing to something that you value more, whether that be career longevity, personal ethics, or increasing productivity. Set a little experiment with yourself this week and trial no engagement with gossip for the work week. Then check in on the weekend and see whether your relationships are better or worse.

Bullying and Harassing Co-workers

My mother always says “don’t tear people down just to build yourself up”. It’s as true for friendships as it is for colleagues.

Let’s just call it. Bullying and workplace harassment are just euphemisms for abuse. If you tried to pull that stuff out on the street it wouldn’t be long before you ended up under arrest.

Research suggests that bullying can come from a variety of factors including narcissism, anger and anxiety. No matter the underlying cause the outcome is always the same. You might get what you want, but each time you practice bullying you’ll have turned another potential co-worker ally into an enemy. Like many of the other unhelpful connection strategies, this probably won’t make for a relaxing life.

Helpful Strategies For Building Relationships With Co-Workers

Developing Active Listening Skills

Do you say your piece and then almost immediately start planning your next sentence while the other person is talking? If so, you’re not really having a conversation and the other person will notice.

Building constructive relationships with colleagues requires active listening. This involves taking the time to stop and really tune in to what the other person is saying. This is all about empathy. By stepping into the other person’s shoes you can engage with them in a way that will feel validating.  

To go the extra mile, ask open-ended questions that indicate to the other person that you want to know more about them. Most of us welcome the chance to tell our stories; by asking questions that start with “how” and “what” you’ll be giving them this chance.

Finally, be on the lookout for the common signs of pseudo-listening such as mind-reading, rehearsing, filtering, judging, problem solving so that you can curb these bad habits.

Practicing Real Confidence

True confidence doesn’t mean you walk around the office thinking that you’re the best. This is guaranteed to distance people.

It’s also not about faking it and trying to put on an in-your-face front. Adopting this kind of persona may work for a little while, but it will be highly draining and eventually the cracks will start to show.

Instead you should aim for real confidence which involves a willingness to express vulnerability by try new things and being open to learning from times when you fail. This sense of belief in yourself is attractive to others.

Becoming Attachment Aware

habits to build ruin relationships coworkers attachment cadence psychologyBecoming aware of your own baggage around relationships is really important whether it be intimate or workmates. We’ve known about attachment since the 1960s and yet it’s rare for people to check in with their own models around how to connect with people.

If you’ve developed a secure attachment across your life, then building relationships with new people at work will probably be fairly easy for you.

However, if you’re part of the other 50% of the population it’s important to learn about your triggers in relationships. Do you feel abandoned when a small clique doesn’t invite you out with them after work? It’s okay if you do, but it’s really important to be able to manage the way you react to this feeling. If you start complaining to other colleagues or becoming needy with that clique things are likely to get worse.

Practice learning to notice you catastrophising around interaction with co-workers. Once you’re in front of your baggage you can try strategies to improve things such as generating alternatives, minimising reassurance seeking, and communicating your needs with “I” statements.

Sidestepping Anxiety

A little bit of anxiety is normal when meeting new people. However, when it stops you from even being able to converse with co-workers, anxiety isn’t helping.

It’s important to place yourself in situations that may make you a little bit anxious so that you’ve got the chance to build momentum. The old adage of “fake it till you make it” holds here.

After you put yourself in some low threat social situations and start to get some wins with colleagues, you can begin to build things up. Start with something as simple as looking a colleague in the eye and saying “hello” as you walk past. From there you can build to having larger conversations. This stepladder approach to anxiety means you don’t have to feel flooded by fear.

Checking Your Perfectionism

Perfectionism might help you achieve at work, but it rarely helps build relationships. In particular, other-oriented perfectionism where we expect other people to meet our own high standards tends to result in us being critical of others. This creates more interpersonal conflict and reduces your chance of being able to connect.

Practice becoming aware of your own unrelenting standards through techniques such as mindfulness meditation so that you can have the chance to engage with people as peers rather than disappointments.


Building relationships that will stand the test of time in the office takes work. But by approaching the task from a long-term perspective of developing trust and self-awareness you’ll be in a position to really connect with the people you see every day. 

If you find that connecting with your colleagues is a challenge for you then get in contact with us to see if we can help make the workplace work for you. 

You can also check out our guide on learning the best tips to find a Psychologist in Sydney that works for you.