Forming Relationships With Work Colleagues

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 19 July 2022 | Published 20 May 2021

Updated 19 July 2022

Published 20 May 2021

Forming relationships with your work colleagues is an important part of any job. Having a good relationship with your work colleagues can make work more positive and increase productivity in the workplace. In this article, we describe what a work colleague is, talk about work relationships and answer some frequently asked questions.

What is a work colleague?

Work colleagues are employees who work alongside you. You probably see them daily and may ask for their advice or help when needed. You may just be in the same department or have the same manager. Either way, you will probably spend much of your working day in the company of your work colleagues. It is beneficial to both you and the company you work for to have a pleasant and communicative relationship with your work colleagues. Open and positive communication between work colleagues increases office morale and efficiency.

How is a work colleague different from a coworker?

A coworker is someone who works in the same company, but whom you do not have direct contact. A work colleague is someone you directly work with regularly. A work colleague is someone you communicate with every day, whereas a coworker is someone who you may see in passing. For example, if you're a computer salesperson, a coworker could be someone who works in the human resources department. A work colleague would be someone who works on the sales team directly with you.

Each organisation may have different terminology and definitions for their employees. Check with your company's HR department to learn its specific terms and definitions.

How to have successful relationships with work colleagues

Getting along with work colleagues creates a productive and stress-free workplace. A productive relationship with your work colleagues can make your job easier and potentially improve your standing in the company. Here are some steps to ensure that you have a great relationship with your work colleagues:

1. Show respect

Show respect to your work colleagues by treating them with dignity and appreciate the work they do. Express respect proactively when speaking to people and receive their requests thoughtfully. Be mindful of your actions by keeping your desk organised, being on time and recognising others' hard work. Actions like this show your work colleagues that you respect them as people and value their contribution to the organisation.

2. Choose conversation topics wisely

Choose your conversation topics wisely when talking with a colleague. While it's good to form friendly relationships with colleagues, remember that you are still in a professional environment. It's best to avoid controversial topics. Topics like relationships, politics and religion are often best left out of your professional workspace.

Related: Key attributes of professionalism in the workplace

3. Communicate directly

Communicating directly means going to your work colleague to speak to them privately and directly, rather than through indirect routes. For example, this could apply to situations when you have questions about a project, want to give them advice or have an issue that needs resolving.

Direct communication can be through an email, phone call or in-person conversation. In any case, private conversations are only between you and your work colleague, since going to a manager with their comments can often create distance between the two of you. Always approach your work colleague professionally and respectfully with any comments you might have. If you want to involve your manager, find a way to involve the colleague in your conversation as well so it is transparent.

Related: A comprehensive guide to workplace communication styles

4. Avoid gossip

Gossip includes speaking about anyone in your company, be it rumours or verified facts, when they are not present. Talking about another person can make you appear untrustworthy and is generally considered impolite. Just like religion and politics, gossip is a subject that is best avoided to maintain a professional environment at work. If someone else begins to gossip, try to change the subject or let them know that you don't want to talk about that topic.

5. Celebrate teamwork

Celebrate the completion of any task that involves work colleagues working together to achieve a goal. It's helpful to acknowledge how important teamwork is. It can also be effective to provide incentives to people who are active team players. If you don't have the power to offer these incentives, bring up this idea to your managers to promote building relationships and teamwork in the office.

Related: 6 elements of successful teamwork (and how to adopt them)

6. Focus on positive interactions

Keeping your interactions with coworkers positive and professional can improve your relationships and increase office morale. Avoid discussing overly personal problems or complaining about work. Even if you are feeling a bit down, giving your work colleague a smile or positive greeting can improve their day and possibly yours.

7. Offer help

Helping a work colleague means giving them advice or assistance regarding work they are struggling with. Your work colleagues face challenges just like you, and understanding them can make your team and professional relationships stronger. Offering help to a colleague lets you present yourself as an asset and a friend to your work colleague. This can make it much more likely they will offer advice and support to you in the future.

8. Spend time outside of work

Spending time outside of work can include going out for lunch or coffee. If you are having trouble connecting with a work colleague, it's helpful to try to and get to know them outside of the office setting where they may be more comfortable having a casual conversation.

Related: 9 Virtual Social Activities to Stay Connected

9. Be a good listener

Practice being an active listener when a work colleague is speaking to you. Being a good active listener means listening to their opinions and stories without giving a snap judgment or interrupting. When your colleagues know they can count on you to listen to them, it can build trust and make them more comfortable. It may also lead to a deeper friendship and work partnership. If they choose to share personal information with you, make sure it remains confidential.

Related: The importance of reflective listening in the workplace

Frequently asked questions about work colleagues

Here are some frequently asked questions about work colleagues and how you should interact with them:

How should you handle a disagreement with a work colleague?

Disagreements with work colleagues are part of working as a team and should be handled professionally and respectfully. Start by communicating directly with your work colleague, explain your idea and actively listen to theirs. See if you can find a compromise that includes both of your points of view. Negotiation and compromise are essential skills when working as part of a team.

If the disagreement continues with no sign of a resolution or it affects other parts of your working environment, then it's time to talk with your manager. Discuss the problem with your manager and see if you can remedy the situation between the three of you. If this does not work, or your boss is part of the problem, then it may be time to escalate and speak to someone in human resources.

What is an appropriate gift for a work colleague?

There are a few basic guidelines to follow to ensure you choose an appropriate gift for a work colleague. First, make sure the gift is not too personal, like jewellery or clothes. It's also best to avoid joke gifts even if you have a close relationship with a colleague. Avoid alcohol if you don't know the recipient's use or religious background. Finally, be sure to stay within the prescribed price limit. Going above the agreed-upon limit can make people feel uncomfortable.

Related: Etiquette and best practices for giving gifts to employees

How can I make my work colleague feel valued?

You can make your work colleague feel valued by appreciating their work. Gestures like buying them a cup of coffee or offering to help them meet a deadline can make them feel appreciated. A kind word or acknowledgement of their recent accomplishments lets your work colleague know how important their progress is.

Is my boss a work colleague?

Your boss is not your colleague. However, outside of your organisation, perhaps at a networking event or conference, you may refer to your boss as a colleague. When you are in the office, your boss is not on the same level in the hierarchy as you and, therefore, is not your work colleague. You should treat them with respect and be attentive to their direction.

Related: How to cope with a narcissist boss: problems and solutions

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