Working Relationships

While discussing a friend’s challenges with her boyfriend in a noisy restaurant, I missed a part of the conversation. When the noise died down, I heard, “And I just doesn’t know what he wants from me. What do you think?”


Thejus Chakravarthy

2 years ago | 7 min read

While discussing a friend’s challenges with her boyfriend in a noisy restaurant, I missed a part of the conversation. When the noise died down, I heard, “And I just doesn’t know what he wants from me. What do you think?”

I responded, “I think, if you love him, you should ask him what he wants and begin that kind of healthy dialogue.”

“Wait, why do you think I love my boss?!”

Turns out, much to my embarrassment, we had begun a different line of conversation. But it got me to thinking.

A lot of the things that result in healthy relationships should be used in our work interactions. For example, this article discusses three relationship hacks and how they can lead to a more healthy relationship.

They are:

  1. Know where you stand
  2. Be reasonable and honest about expectations
  3. Practice listening over speaking
Photo by Ian Robinson on Unsplash
Photo by Ian Robinson on Unsplash

Know where you stand

Knowing your values, the things that make up the core of your being, and discussing them with your partner are an important part of relationships. It allows you to understand when and where you can make compromises.

If you value communication over being physically near each other, a healthy relationship might look like one where you text each other regularly, but don’t cuddle in public. Sometimes, your partner may not agree with your values or their own values might clash with yours. That’s when compromise becomes key.

Applying this hack to the workplace might be a little difficult but it would be productive. For example, if one of your values is making sure you spend time with your family, but your boss asks you to stay late or take work home with you, how likely are you to say no? Especially in a work environment where everyone else is doing it. Or if your job hangs in the balance.

So you compromise, because you value your job more than spending time with your family. That may not be the truth but that’s what it looks like.

On the other hand, if you mention how important spending time with your family is, ahead of time, you can remind your boss that you’d rather not stay late because of that value. If they have an issue with that, you can discuss a compromise.

Maybe you stay late today and leave early tomorrow. Or you take the work home but work from home tomorrow as well. There are any number of compromises you can make, but only once you know where you stand.

Be reasonable and honest about expectations

“Sometimes we expect others to support us in ways that are unrealistic, or in ways that the other person isn’t aware of or is unable to fulfill.”

To quote Dan Savage, “Use your words.”

At work, it can be a little unclear. We may receive expectations from our managers but seldom do we tell them our expectations of them. And we should. We should be discussing how we want to be managed, how we want to be supported, how we can signal we are in trouble. By doing so, we give our manager a chance to help us the way we need to be helped, to support us in a manner that allows us to do our best work.

If you want daily check-ins instead of the weekly ones that are currently in place, say so. If you want to email or call people in other departments without getting clearance from your manager, say so.

Maybe you do your best work with a daily check-in but maybe that also allows you to focus on daily meetings and not your actual work. Be honest with them but more importantly with yourself.

And what do you do if your manager isn’t clear about their expectations? What if you get deliverables but no timeline? Or assume you need to have final version when they expected a first draft?

At times like these, it is even more crucial that you are clear about your expectations. Even more important that you say, “Given the deliverable, I expect to have it done by X. Does that work for you?” Or, “If this is supposed to be a final draft, I can have a first draft for you by Y” You need to know your abilities, your workload, and you need to communicate that to your manager.

It’s impossible to read another person’s mind so we have to use our words to clarify, codify, and commit. But, just as in a relationship, you can’t make progress without knowing yourself first.

Practice listening over speaking

Sometimes, when your partner points out a problem, they aren’t talking about that specific problem. What they’re actually concerned about is what that problem may represent, or how that problem is symptomatic of a larger issue.

Let’s say you leave dirty dishes in the sink. You’ve always done that, usually waiting until the weekend to run the dishwasher. One day, just before bed, your partner brings up that they always do the dishes and it’s really pissing them off.

You counter with the fact that they never load the dishwasher. And that’s how the argument starts. It twists and turns around who does what, getting hotter and louder until eventually one of you is sleeping on the couch.

What your partner was actually concerned about wasn’t the dishes in the sink. What they were concerned about what that you take them for granted. Or that you don’t have the same standards that they do. Or maybe that you have standards that they don’t meet and you aren’t telling them. Or any number of other concerns.

The key here is to listen to what they have to say and ask them for clarification. Listen to their concerns and let them talk it out. Eventually, you’ll find that you might agree with them about some things. You might still disagree but at least you can then discuss the real source of the disagreement.

In fact, the secret weapon to communication is not talking, but listening. Does that apply in relationships? Yes. Does it apply in the workplace? Also yes.

This is especially crucial in work scenarios that involve feedback.

Let’s say you finish up a project. You email the files over to your manager, and they immediately call you in for a talk. Flush with anxiety, you walk in and they immediately start praising your work and telling you what a good job you did.

Feels good, right? Now what if as soon as you walked in, they started tearing holes in your project, pointing out the flaws and weaknesses, telling you how they expected better of you.

Doesn’t feel quite so good anymore, does it?

If you ask for input, but get criticism, you’ll feel your emotions blocking your ability to take in the feedback. If you wait and listen, hear them out, you might find you agree with certain parts. If so, you can focus on those parts or explain you weren’t looking for criticism.

In either case, the problem isn’t the statements they make. It’s how you feel about them, how your emotions rush to and fro, sloshing around like gasoline in a tank, waiting to explode. Your anxiety turns into excitement or disappointment based on what they say, but before you hear it, it’s just potential energy.

So, before you walk in, while the anxiety is still revving up, resolve to listen first. Focus on hearing the words they are saying, and asking questions about what they meant. Try to take apart the feedback and find the truths within, and to get clarity on the parts you feel are untrue. Understand that the things you’re hearing aren’t coming out of nowhere. They have a context and it’s up to you to try and get that perspective.

If you hear, “I’m really disappointed that this is late,” it may not mean that they are disappointed in you, or even in the lateness of the project. It might mean that they are expressing a concern about other projects that have nothing to do with you.

They may be stressed out about other deliverables and are taking out that stress on the most immediate target. If there are flaws in your project, they might be the result of unclear direction, or not having enough resources. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

Even if the feedback is positive, it’s important to understand that while the praise is appreciated, but the things being praised may have nothing to do with you. Whether good or bad, all feedback tells us is someone else’s opinion. It does not tell us who we are or what we are worth. Even the highest praise should be listened to with the same detachment as the most damning criticism. Without fully listening, we can never be sure we heard what the other person said, only what we thought they said.

In the end, the open, honest communication that makes relationships work also makes work….work.


Created by

Thejus Chakravarthy

I find ways to help people perform to the best of their abilities, make processes as efficient as possible, ensure technology is being used to accelerate not complicate. In the end, there will always be work. But if we do it together, maybe it won't feel like work.







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