Getting Along (2022) describes the importance of workplace interactions and their effects on productivity and creativity.
Introduction: How a work frenemy can be your career’s biggest problem – or an asset.
Think of your work bestie. They might be the person who grabs an extra caffe latte for you on their way to the office, or they might be privy to all your in-law drama. Whatever it is that makes this person special, your close relationships are key to elevating a plain old nine-to-five to something you look forward to, that motivates and inspires you, and makes you look forward to coming to work every day.
Positive, supportive work relationships can help you become more creative, more productive, and happier, while negative workplace environments can reduce the quality of your work and life. In this very short summary, you’ll learn how to manage your relationships and how to keep work a place you enjoy.
Workplace relationships strongly impact your work life, productivity, and happiness.
It might be a reasonable assumption that a Fortune 500 executive in a corner office has a better, happier work experience than someone toiling away on, say, a factory floor for minimum wage. Or maybe you’d make the safe bet that an aid worker for an inspirational social justice organization comes home feeling more joy and satisfaction than a fast-food worker.
Not so fast.
If that executive is surrounded by aggressive, hostile coworkers in a dog-eat-dog environment, but the factory worker has at least three good friends they enjoy joking with daily, the exact opposite could be true.
If that fast-food worker is supported by a caring boss while the aid worker’s ideas are constantly appropriated by their manager, handing fries out through a drive-through window may indeed be more rewarding work than addressing poverty.
When it comes to job satisfaction, workers in mundane jobs can feel just as satisfied and fulfilled as those with inspiring jobs. And just what is the secret to a satisfying work life? Salary and benefits matter, of course, but the most important factor for a satisfying work life might be plain old-fashioned social connections.
Here’s an interesting study that examined the effect of supportive people. Two groups were taken to the base of a hill, one group with solo climbers and the other group with paired-up climbers. Each person was given a heavy backpack and asked to estimate how steep the hill in front of them was. Those who were paired up overwhelmingly estimated a gentler, more doable climb than the ones who faced the prospect alone.
The opposite holds true as well. Studies show that those who are unhappy at work due to work relationships said they deliberately work less or less well. During the COVID-19 pandemic, one study found that people who reported being less productive also felt less connected.
In extreme situations, dealing with unpleasant or hostile work environments can even have a detrimental effect on your health. In one study, couples were separated into two groups. One group contained couples that fought a lot while the other had pairs who reported strong, supportive relationships. Tiny cuts were made on the participants’ skin. Those who were in the happier relationships actually healed faster!
You’re actually wired to be affected by how you’re treated by others. When your manager berates you in front of your colleagues, or you find out a coworker trashed your project behind your back, your brain feels like you were physically attacked. Your amygdala –an almond-shaped area in your brain – releases cortisol and adrenaline, fight-or-flight hormones that can lead to physical manifestations such as shallow breathing or a clenched jaw. Not fun – and in the long run, detrimental to your career.
So what should you do if you are trapped in a workplace with less-than-ideal relationships?
Managing negative interactions can help you coexist with difficult coworkers.
Austrian psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl famously said: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is the power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
So let’s enter that space. First, observe your reactions. Let’s say you made a presentation and you’re upset because a coworker shrugged rather than clapped. You leave angrily because you feel like you bombed your presentation. But did you bomb it? Or are you operating from negativity bias, where you focus only on the one bad thing that happened even though several good things may also have occurred? Maybe you were so intent on the one negative reaction that you failed to take into account another coworker who nodded and smiled, or yet another who enthusiastically wrote down notes the whole time you talked.
Reappraise the situation to which you’re reacting. Can you view it through a more positive or at least neutral filter? Reframe it as a challenge rather than a threat?
If you still come back to the realization that unpleasant work relationships exist and are impacting your career and life, then it’s time to deal with it. Here’s how:
First of all, identify the difficult people – the passive-aggressive manager or relentlessly negative coworker – and avoid them as much as possible. Remove yourself from their orbit by turning down social invitations and choosing to email them rather than conducting face-to-face conversations.
If interacting with them is unavoidable, start documenting things. Write down details of conversations and interactions so you can identify and track patterns of behavior.
What not to do? Don’t shame others, retaliate, or suppress your feelings.
Instead, control what you can control. Create a microculture that reflects your values. Reach out to people who think like you and whose company you enjoy, those who support you and give you positive vibes. Do things outside work with people you like. Have compassion for yourself.
Maybe you’ve tried everything we mentioned in the summary, but you still feel oppressed and unhappy at work.
Well, if the time has come to leave, do so with your head held high, but make sure you have a good option in front of you. Don’t run to get away from your problems. Instead, run toward something better.
About the author
Amy Gallo is a contributing editor at Harvard Business Review. She is the author of the HBR Guide to Dealing with Conflict and a cohost of HBR’s Women at Work podcast. Her articles have been collected in dozens of books on emotional intelligence, giving and receiving feedback, time management, and leadership. As a sought-after speaker and facilitator, Gallo has helped thousands of leaders deal with conflict more effectively and navigate complicated workplace dynamics. She is a graduate of Yale University and holds a master’s from Brown University.
Communication Skills, Corporate Culture, Psychology, Business, Self Help, Leadership, Language, Relationships, Management, Productivity, Creativity, Business Conflict Resolution and Mediation, Human Resources and Personnel Management
Table of Contents
Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Part 1 Laying the Groundwork for Getting Along
1 Why Work Relationships Are Worth the Trouble 19
Good or bad, they matter.
2 Your Brain on Conflict 31
How our minds often work against us.
Part 2 The Archetypes
3 The Insecure Boss 49
“I’m great at my job … right?”
4 The Pessimist 67
“This will never work.”
5 The Victim 87
“Why does this always happen to me?”
6 The Passive-Aggressive Peer 99
7 The Know-It-All 117
“Well, actually …”
8 The Tormentor 137
“I suffered and you should too.”
9 The Biased Coworker 157
“Why are you so sensitive?”
10 The Political Operator 183
“If you aren’t moving up, you’re falling behind.”
11 Nine Principles for Getting Along with Anyone 203
Change is possible.
Part 3 Protecting Yourself
12 When All Else Fails 223
Don’t give up-yet.
13 Approaches That Rarely Work 233
They’ll only make things worse.
14 Taking Care 241
Your well-being is priority number one.
Appendix: Who Am I Dealing With? 253
Figuring out which archetype(s) your coworker fits into.
About the Author 283
A research-based, practical guide for how to handle difficult people at work.
Work relationships can be hard. The stress of dealing with difficult people dampens our creativity and productivity, degrades our ability to think clearly and make sound decisions, and causes us to disengage. We might lie awake at night worrying, withdraw from work, or react in ways we later regret—rolling our eyes in a meeting, snapping at colleagues, or staying silent when we should speak up.
Too often we grin and bear it as if we have no choice. Or throw up our hands because one-size-fits-all solutions haven’t worked. But you can only endure so much thoughtless, irrational, or malicious behavior—there’s your sanity to consider, and your career.
In Getting Along, workplace expert and Harvard Business Review podcast host Amy Gallo identifies eight familiar types of difficult coworkers—the insecure boss, the passive-aggressive peer, the know-it-all, the biased coworker, and others—and provides strategies tailored to dealing constructively with each one. She also shares principles that will help you turn things around, no matter who you’re at odds with. Taking the high road isn’t easy, but Gallo offers a crucial perspective on how work relationships really matter, as well as the compassion, encouragement, and tools you need to prevail—on your terms. She answers questions such as: Why can’t I stop thinking about that nasty email?! What’s behind my problem colleague’s behavior? How can I fix things if they won’t cooperate? I’ve tried everything—what now?
Full of relatable, sometimes cringe-worthy examples, the latest behavioral science research, and practical advice you can use right now, Getting Along is an indispensable guide to navigating your toughest relationships at work—and building interpersonal resilience in the process.
Named one of “22 new books…that you should consider reading before the year is out” by Fortune
“This practical and empathetic guide to taking the high road is worth a look for workers lost in conflict.” – Publisher’s Weekly
“[Amy Gallo] has a long record of writing accessibly about workplace dynamics. Dealing with tormentors and other tricky colleagues is hard, but for each of the character types, Gallo sets out step-by-step tactics. Most of all, she encourages us to understand the underlying issues before we react to problem colleagues” – Financial Times
“The bottom line is that Getting Along can give you confidence to try to improve tough relationships at work (including ones where you might be part of the problem.)” – Charter (charterworks.com)
Named a Top Voice in Gender Equity by LinkedIn
Advance Praise for Getting Along:
“We all go to work with a relationship résumé that shapes how we feel about ourselves, how we trust, how we communicate, and how we manage conflict. Getting Along offers a clear guide to navigating the murky waters of relationships at work.” – Esther Perel, psychotherapist; New York Times bestselling author; host, Where Should We Begin? and How’s Work? podcasts
“Amy Gallo is that rare combination of a first-class thinker and a wonderful writer. Getting Along tells us how to work well, even with that jerk we wish would get another job. Highly recommend.” – Daniel Goleman, bestselling author, Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence
“Getting Along is both practical and wise. And Amy Gallo is exactly the person you want by your side for the next step of your professional journey.” – Amy C. Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management, Harvard Business School; author, The Fearless Organization
“An accessible, actionable book about how to navigate your toughest collaborations—and turn them into some of your most rewarding work relationships.” – Adam Grant, #1 New York Times bestselling author, Think Again; host, TED WorkLife podcast
“A must-have for everyone in the workforce. Amy Gallo’s handbook is a treasure chest of practical, evidence-based tips. I will be referring to and recommending this essential guide for years to come!” – Dolly Chugh, author, The Person You Mean to Be and A More Just Future
“If you’ve ever lost sleep over a relationship at work, this book is for you. Amy Gallo has written a research-backed guide filled with relatable stories to help you turn the most complicated interactions into something to learn from.” – Linda A. Hill, Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School; coauthor, Collective Genius and Being the Boss
“In this wise and deeply researched book, Amy Gallo has presented a powerful and actionable framework for dealing with difficult coworkers. No matter your situation, better working relationships start here.” – Daniel H. Pink, #1 New York Times bestselling author, The Power of Regret, WHEN, and DRIVE