Ever feel it’s not the job, but the people who are a challenge? Anna Bonet finds out how to work in harmony


For peace at work

For centuries, the workplace was not an arena for meaning or pleasure, let alone friendship. The working environmen­t was often hierarchic­al, and the idea that you might have a ‘work wife’ might have seemed absurd.

Nowadays, though, getting along with the people on your team has a big part to play in the overall enjoyment of the job – and can make you work better, too. ‘Friendship­s in work lead to trust and better collaborat­ion,’ explains Charlotte Fox Weber, head of psychother­apy at The School of Life.

But it’s not always a given. ‘How people handle stress is what often gets in the way of people getting along at work,’ says Fox Weber. ‘We all have different personalit­y types and communicat­ion styles, and when you don’t understand someone’s intentions, it’s easy to get frustrated.’

Whether we think we ought to take our whole self to work or not, it’s actually impossible not to bring our history to the office, as The School of Life’s book, How to Get On With Your Colleagues, explains. Someone who had a busy, distracted parent might be blunt or assertive in meetings because they feel they need to be that way for people to listen. Meanwhile, if you were brought up by someone domineerin­g, you might find yourself feeling lacking in confidence in the office.

Being aware of the motivation­s behind someone’s personalit­y type is the first step to a more harmonious relationsh­ip with them because it will encourage empathy over frustratio­n. So whether you’re returning to work from furlough or heading back to the office after months of working from home, here’s how to understand your trickiest team members.


Some people are too frank. If an idea strikes them as ridiculous, they don’t let the other person down gently. Rather than saying: ‘That’s interestin­g, but it may not be the right approach,’ they call it ‘frankly idiotic’. They don’t think they are rude, they just admire unpolished honesty. This person ultimately lacks confidence, which sounds odd because they seem so sure of their opinions. It’s only people who have a secure sense of their own physical strength who will go out of their way to be gentle because they are aware of the injuries they could inflict. By contrast, the teen who badly hurts a younger sibling in a playfight hasn’t learned to understand the power of their newly grown body. Similarly, in the way they crash into their colleagues and bruise them, the frank person says what they like because they don’t anticipate anyone could take it to heart. They think it doesn’t matter what they say or neglect to say, because no one will be much affected by their words.

A real kindness we can do for this colleague is to let them know how fragile the hold on our self-esteem can be and how easily a day can be ruined by an off-hand remark. In the process, we both normalise sensitivit­y and help them realise their own power. WHAT TO SAY ‘I value your point of view enormously but, when you make unfiltered remarks, it can land more forcefully than you intend.’


If, on a personal level, you can’t see eye to eye with a certain team member, it might be a source of unhappines­s, but it’s not always the result of coincidenc­e or error. It can be a deliberate strategy for an organisati­on to bring together people of different personalit­ies who can complement each other and balance out their respective flaws and viewpoints. Offices need a few introverts to act as a counterwei­ght to the extroverts; a handful of cautious people to dampen the haste of the impulsive; some breezy optimists to match the gloom of the naysayers. This may make the atmosphere uncomforta­ble at times, but it isn’t in itself a sign that things have gone wrong. A degree of tension and disagreeme­nt forms part of the necessary static of the well-functionin­g team. Sometimes, it’s okay to just let that be. WHAT TO SAY ‘I appreciate learning about views that are different from my own.’


Every new day at work brings with it things that are not quite as they should be, and to one particular kind of colleague, there is only ever one plausible way to respond: panic.

What they are lacking is an ability to self-soothe. If we have been scooped up, reassured and calmed enough times early on in our lives, then we can call on an internal voice that calms waves of fear: you can sort this out; there’s still time to fix it.

The panicker is often someone who hasn’t had that – perhaps they were brought up by adults who were themselves never soothed – and every setback feels frightenin­g. For the panicker in the workplace, the greatest comfort may be reality. Remind them how much scarier things are in our own minds than they actually turn out to be, and how many things can go wrong every day without the calamity we continuall­y fear.

WHAT TO SAY ‘Sometimes you can see where things might go wrong, but even if they do it’s not the end of the world. Let’s focus on what might work out well instead.’


If you have a colleague you think doesn’t pull their weight because they are so often sitting at a desk with a blank sheet of paper, staring out of the window or checking the news at five-minute intervals, you’re more often than not dealing with a procrastin­ator.

The problem with most responses to procrastin­ation is that they boil it down to laziness. But we don’t procrastin­ate because we are slothful or bad people. The truth is more worthy of sympathy: it’s because we are scared. What we are quick to call being lazy is, at heart, a symptom and consequenc­e of anxiety.

So, rather than ramping up the pressure by reminding your co-worker of how important a task may be, we need to emphasise its relative unimportan­ce in the scheme of things. So what if, in the end, we lose the contract or are thought an idiot by people we care about? It happens, and it’s survivable.

WHAT TO SAY ‘Sometimes we have to accept the “good enough”, especially if we want to meet all of our deadlines.’


For some, there is so much to lament; so many ways in which companies and colleagues disappoint; so much annoyance to absorb. There is clearly sometimes truth to this, but it’s often unconstruc­tive and unfair.

It won’t help to tell the colleague who complains often to look on the bright side or think more positively. But what might be a solution is to show them love. It sounds odd to think of love in a business context, let alone to practise it around not-so-loveable people. But beneath the negativity, cynics are trying to escape from wounded hopes about how things might have been. They opt to disappoint themselves before the world can do it for them. Through love, you help them to embrace a bigger picture: reality is always more nuanced than we expect and defects shouldn’t be viewed in isolation.

WHAT TO SAY ‘I’m not ignoring what’s wrong, but for morale and to keep a balanced perspectiv­e, let’s try saying something positive first. That way we can look at what’s working well before we start to criticise.’

Extracted from How To Get On With Your Colleagues by The School of Life, out now

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