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  • Writer's pictureJilian Houghton

5 Common Challenges for Workplace Relationships

Over half of the mass attacks in the U.S. were motivated by grievances, and the attackers were retaliating for perceived wrongs, many related to work or workplace relationships. I stumbled across this statistic while casually scrolling during my lunch break. A study released on violence in the U.S. established some patterns amongst the last few years’ perpetrators of mass violence including these motivations based in workplace conflict.


It’s tragic to see the senseless loss of life happening with increasing frequency, and there’s no reason or excuse that justifies it. However this does give us hope that our work to build, rebuild, and nurture positive workplace relationships can make a world of difference. I realize this issue is more complex than any one solution, but our hope is that by helping in one small way we tip the scales for good. As others combine their efforts we can all drop the balance for sustained change.


If you’ve ever sat in on one of our training sessions, participated in a wedge removal, or watched us coach employees on effective communication, then you’ve seen first hand our passion for empowering every single person with the ability to navigate workplace relationships.


This isn’t just our job; it’s our calling.

We know that everything at work is affected by the way we connect with one another. Workplace relationships are the bedrock of organizational efficiency and success. Work relationships are worth investing in. They will always magnify their characterization exponentially- whether good or bad is up to you.


As we’ve counseled, coached, and trained thousands of clients, we’ve whittled down the top five most common catalysts for relationship destruction at work.


1. Paradigm Projectors

Paradigms, or our unique lens to the world, inform every decision we make. This view directly impacts all of our communications with coworkers and clients. With nearly eight billion paradigms on this planet there is no single correct one. Yet time and time again we run into employees and leaders who believe they are right every time in every conversation. They project their paradigm as universal truth and dismiss contrary ideas, disrespectfully respond to coworkers, and attempt to bully them into agreement. Even as I describe this caricature of a person I can quickly draw upon past supervisors for inspiration.

They use statements like:

“Everyone knows….”

“Are you making too much out of this?”

“You’re making this a big deal.”

Paradigm projectors damage workplace relationships through their communication style, actions, and expectations. Their approach decreases motivation and buy-in from their employees. Innovation and productivity decrease while resentment and turnover increase. It can be destructive to allow a paradigm projector to go unchecked within your organization.

2. Uncommunicated Expectations

The perfect formula for conflict and failure is when people assume others know and understand their expectations. Whether in your work or personal relationships, we find ourselves disappointed in someone we associate with and often that can be traced back to an unmet need. If we trace that experience further back, we might also find that we assumed someone understood our expectations when they did not. (We promise not to tell if you discover you never even communicated the expectation in the first place.)


We have yet to encounter an organization that successfully lays out every single aspect of an individual job so meticulously that the person filling that position doesn’t need any direction from their supervisor. An uncommunicated expectation will be an unmet expectation, if not immediately, it will be in the future.


3. Inconsistent leadership in applying policies and procedures.

When a manager holds some employees to a higher level of scrutiny than others, it damages the trust between leadership and their team. The consequent wedge driven into these relationships by the “favorite” employee status crushes morale for the rest of the team. These double standards can affect a team when a manager only corrects some employees for long lunches, consistently delegates coveted assignments to the same individuals, only offers mentoring to specific employees, or forms strong social bonds with certain individuals. Resentment and decreased motivation result from the perception of favoritism in your management style until finally someone quits. You might be asking yourself, how do I encourage positive work behaviors on my team if I can’t reward them? This is where the wedge removal tool belt is an asset if perceived favoritism is counteracting your efforts to affect change in your team. Your job as a manager is to lead the efforts to manage a work culture. This includes protecting the channels of communication amongst your team so that you can learn sooner than later when the perception of your leadership has soured. Even more beneficial, open communication with trustworthy coworkers can illuminate weaknesses that need your attention.


4. Lack of Self-Awareness and Personal Accountability

While paradigm projectors can lack a certain level of self-awareness, they may just be lacking in communication skills. A lack of personal accountability goes way beyond just communication. It’s the far end of the self-awareness spectrum. If a coworker, especially a leader, lacks self-awareness they will not see, understand or acknowledge the impact their behavior is having on those around them. When any one individual lacks the ability to see their effect on others at work, it can snowball into complete culture destruction. When an employee lacks self awareness and personal accountability the effects are real but can often be mitigated by good supervisors and managers. However, if a leader lacks ownership of their behavior the effects ripple throughout the entire organization.

Best case scenario–people are frustrated and annoyed, affecting work productivity.

Worst case scenario–valuable talent leaves the organization.


5. Allowing Harmful Conflict to Become a Culture

Conflict isn’t always negative. It can be an effective tool used for growth, change, and evolution. Diversity of thought and experience create a wealth of resources when we approach these interactions with our wedge removal tool belt. Conflict becomes harmful when our patterns of navigating tense interactions become bullying, grudge-holding, and silent bystanders. As negative patterns go unresolved either by inaction or ineffective leadership, workplace culture and productivity decay. Conflict begins to characterize team dynamics until no one even bothers to try to fix the culture. “It’s too far gone to fix.” This is a common symptom of wedges in a team culture. You’ve had that job where the veteran employees wearily explain to you that this is just the way it is here. The bullies go unchecked because they’re ‘rainmakers.’ Passive aggressive communication is a norm across departments thanks to a general fear of conflict. These are just a couple of common symptoms we encounter when we work with clients who feel overpowered by the wedges that disrupt their productivity and peace of mind at work. The Wedge Removal formula extracts the issues that characterize a culture entrenched in harmful conflict. The wedge removal tool belt we teach empowers you to be a leader in using conflict as a positive catalyst now and in the future.


You have the ability to be a catalyst for change within your workplace. You can put in the work to build relationships with your coworkers and develop the necessary skills to be successful in doing so. Investment in connection is always worth it.


The benefits are tangible–increased production, greater efficiency, lower turnover, and reduced costs.

And the intangible benefits?

Just think about what it feels like to be seen, understood, and supported.

That’s what you can do for someone else by investing in positive workplace relationships.


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