Let’s have a real conversation about the hard work of relationships at work

Good relationships are hard work. Rewarding, yes. Worthy of my best efforts, yes. Fulfilling, meaningful, fun, yes. But sometimes I feel we ask too much of one another. The deep dive into a relationship can become a land of scrutiny and convoluted efforts to avoid challenge or offense. It can be wasteful to spend too much time in this careful, slow dance. Sometimes we need to move, and sometimes that movement together will have us bumping against one another. And that’s not always avoidable, and it’s not always bad.

I crave depth, authenticity, and substance in relationships – and I hate it when a relationship that’s important to me isn’t working well. I’m incredibly uncomfortable being angry at anyone, or when anyone is angry with me, or worse yet — disappointed in me. I spend a lot of my time wondering what other people are thinking or experiencing.

In the workplace, this strong emphasis I put on the quality of relationships has mostly served me well. But I wonder if I’ve emphasized these relationships sometimes to the point where it’s unproductive. We all have a job to do – make our businesses successful, take care of our customers, and be fair with and supportive of one another. But if we’re obsessing about the nuances of people’s gestures and words and making too many guesses about their intentions, we can find ourselves in a situation where the needs of the organization are lost in the muddle of human emotions.

As a person with a high level of empathy and sensitivity to the needs of others, I wonder if I need to put some of that sensitivity aside. It’s not a matter of not giving a damn; it’s about keeping things in perspective:

  • People will be angry with me and frustrated with me at times, and I need to work through these situations as best I can. But sometimes I need to move ahead rather than get pulled back into the psychology of it all. People do things that piss other people off – it doesn’t always mean that this presents us with a situation that needs careful resolution.
  • Maybe we all need to be more forgiving. My emotional life isn’t primarily your responsibility and vice versa. I may do or say things that you choose to take personally, but maybe that’s not entirely my problem either. I should be thoughtful and sensitive in every interaction I have with you, but sometimes I’ll miss the mark, and I’ll need to apologize. Or you’ll need to let it go.

I’m genuinely sorry for every instance in which I rub you the wrong way, or you do the same to me. But I’ve spent too much of my time writing long explanations of my conduct or thinking, or going back and forth with you about the nuanced details of our shared emotional experience.

I care, I do, but…

About the Author

Sarah Thomson

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