Let’s face it; working closely with colleagues can be a real strain on social boundaries. Getting along with people in your working environment doesn’t necessarily constitute friendship, yet full time employees spend between eight and nine hours per day sharing office space.
Addressing clashes of character or awkward communication in the workplace can be difficult when there is no way to avoid issues that challenge working relationships. So how does one approach a colleague about matters that are less than flattering?
Where productivity is concerned the interest should always lie with the company. An employee whose habits are counterproductive must be confronted in order to preserve the working team’s efficiency.
For instance, if a worker has a tendency to display rude behaviour, interrupt colleagues or ignore procedures, office relationships can suffer greatly. It is up to the team leader to address the person and stop the problem. However, criticising an employee for personal habits can leave them feeling insulted – even more so when the problem is of a sensitive nature, like personal odour or inappropriate dress.
Nobody is perfect
Even though a personal issue like bad body odour can make it difficult for employees to work with a particular person, it is good to keep a fair amount of perspective when awkward issues arise. In some lines of work physical exertion is inevitable, and sweating is normal. With South Africa’s sunny summers even people who do admin jobs in Cape Town or other hot climates tend to perspire throughout the day.
Before complaining about a colleague or confronting them about the problem, ask yourself if everyone else in the office is smelling like a freshly picked rose. Only if the person’s odour problem is persistent, even in a moderate climate, is it worth addressing. Be careful not to offend someone just because they are having a particularly smelly day.
The same logic applies to colleagues who talk, eat, dress or organise their desk differently to you. Ask yourself if their behaviour is affecting productivity. If not, are they violating the company’s rules or dress code? Would you tolerate being criticised for their personal habits if the situation were reversed?
Consideration is key
The truth is spending five days a week in the company of colleagues will inevitably lead to some frustration and certain issues just can’t be ignored. If steps have to be taken it is important to be considerate of your co-worker’s feelings.
Addressing the issue is always better than gossiping behind the person’s back. Speak to the offending party in private rather than raising their personal shortcomings in front of the group. Warn the worker that they might be hurt by what you plan to say, and make the conversation as sensitive as possible.
Expect a certain amount of denial or anger after the discussion. Highlighting positive aspects about the person or offering to help them deal with the issue can soften the blow. Explain that you are addressing the issue to protect them from being the topic of gossip or allowing their offending behaviour to cost them good working relationships.
Dealing with the reverse
Keep in mind that co-workers are just as likely to get frustrated with you as you are with them. If a situation arises where a colleague approaches you about an issue concerning your working relationship, listen with an open mind and try to appreciate how awkward it was to start the conversation in the first place.