Why ‘Dealing With Other People’ Has Become Our Biggest Struggle

Michelle McQuaid
3 min readAug 19, 2022

How To Make Our Relationships Easier At Work

Lately, have you been finding that dealing with other people at work is often zapping your patience and draining your energy? If you’re nodding your head, you’re not alone. Our studies found that ‘dealing with others’ had become the biggest struggle most workers reported when it came to caring for their wellbeing at work during the past 12 months.

“The kind of low-quality connections many of us have experienced at work due to the restrictions of the global pandemic is life-depleting. These corrosive connections at work can be difficult and drain the energy from us,” explained Professor Jane Dutton from the University of Michigan when we interviewed her recently. “However, even a single encounter with another person where you feel seen, feel known and experience mutual regard for each other can fortify you and be an antidote against loneliness.”

For example, Jane’s research has found that when we experience a high-quality connection at work — an interaction where you get a sense of mutual awareness and being on the same page as the other person — these interactions act like interpersonal vitamins. They light you up; they energize you and give you a sense of positive regard for others.

As a result, these connections strengthen you and help build up your psychological and emotional resources. Even a single encounter with another person where you feel seen, feel known, and experience mutual regard for each other can fortify you and be an antidote against loneliness.

They have also been found to leave you feeling more grateful, optimistic and positive about your future. And one of the most important impacts of these connections is that they build the social fabric and psychological safety of teams and organizations so that cooperation and collaboration become easier and of higher quality.

The good news is that studies have found that it doesn’t take much for people to experience a high-quality connection at work; it can happen in a micro-moment or develop over longer periods of time. Jane recommends trying:

  • Setting rules of engagement — Whether your people work in close physical proximity or virtually, they can be just interacting and not connecting. Consider how you bring people together. For example, have some rules of engagement about use of technology in meetings, as even the presence of a phone can really disrupt people’s sense of being connected to others.
  • Rewarding collective achievement — Build rewards around collective, rather than individual, rewards in your workplace. For example, provide peer-to-peer rewards for doing the kind of helping that helps get the work done in ways that foster more meaningful social fabric between people.
  • Onboarding people for relationships — During the first few weeks on the job, don’t just onboard people for their tasks; onboard them to create better connections across the organization. During new situations, people are more open to new behaviors, so this is an excellent opportunity to set a trajectory for people to be part of a richer and more connected social tissue.
  • Being curious about corrosive connections — Adopt an attitude of curiosity about what’s going on in your challenging relationships. Try to fully engage the other person to find out what’s going on with them and their experience of the interactions. After all, most people want to work towards making it better. Be open to engaging some advice, extra resources or tools to help you resolve the situation.

What can you do to improve the quality of your connections with others at work?