How important are relationships to successful people and what makes for a successful relationship? Respect, safety and friendship are all supposed to be good for our health and happiness. But how do we know when a relationship is working for us? To be successful in relationship terms implies that we interact with other people in a way, which is productive. Open, clear, direct communication, productive disagreement, and the ability to recover from setbacks must be high on most wish lists in the workplace, on the street and at home. Still, it’s hard to reconcile being an ambitious go-getter with having great relationships with others. 

Let’s define a relationship as a series of repeated meaningful interactions. That covers the most common situations in our lives.  Relationship success would be getting what you need from regular interactions that matter to us. We don’t generally need to have a relationship with random strangers. And because the special relationships of love and intimacy make us vulnerable, we tend to perform these particular emotions in private spaces. Nevertheless we make the effort to establish quality interactions in meaningful relationships because we get something back. At work we value performance feedback that is actionable and accurate or resolves personal problems. And maybe we also simply enjoy being in contexts where we feel effective and appreciated. Where our actions seem to have purpose.

For decades we have played this game of ignoring emotions outside the domestic arena. The mention of feelings at work used to cause professional toes to curl and starched collars to wilt. The “ick” effect. Pretending that people leave their feelings outside the office door is just that, a pretence. Work has become relational too. Office “politics” is a real thing, and managed badly, leads to destructive competition, lowered sales, more days off sick, and rapid turnover in staff. That affects the bottom line. Because unsurprisingly, people do not like to be in bad relationships anywhere and with employment now increasingly casualised, the idea of staying with a company for life is almost laughable. Keeping good people can make or break a business.   So, its now ok to admit that work relationships are important. If you want to get credit for your work, good pay, decent benefits and quick promotions, good relationships matter as much as effective communication and meeting your targets.

Relationships have an emotional impact, which can change how you feel. Some work relationships leave you feeling emptied and flat, some leave you bubbly and inspired and some don’t have any emotional effect at all.  People, friends, and colleagues can lower your energy levels and affect your productivity. Its easy to recognize a meltdown: loss of control, shouting etc signal that the person you are interacting with is no longer able to manage their emotions but what about when misbehaviour is more subtle: being ignored, excluded, not given credit for your work, being blamed when things go wrong or being made to feel small. Interactions, which consistently leave you feeling raw, confused, frustrated or wondering why your working time has just been wasted, are best avoided.  A successful relationship, like a healthy person needs time, energy and considered communication. Successful people grow healthy relationships and are rewarded in positive feelings, productive teams and colleagues who show up fully at work. If your emotions at work are more “ow” than “wow” it may well be time to make a change in working practices in discussion with your line manager, get help to improve your relationships or to move on.


Clementine Burnley
Clementine Burnley was born and raised in Cameroon. At the moment, she lives and writes in Berlin, Germany.
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2 Comments on "Love at Work"

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Catherine Johnson

Thanks for the good advice! With the blurring of private and work life boundaries and being constantly available, sometimes work relationships are like having a child – we’re always available. Any tips on how to handle that?

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