Forty hours a week is a lot of time to spend with someone you can’t stand.
What’s more, not having friends at work can actually make you stupid.
That’s why it’s so important to foster positive relationships at work.
Psychologist and couples counselor John Gottman spent 40 years researching exactly what goes into healthy relationships, and he posited in his book, “The Relationship Cure,” that the same principles that make marriage work also hold true for other kinds of relationships.
“Relationships in the workplace, including friendships, collegial relationships, and relationships with superiors or subordinates, are human relationships,” Dr. Michael McNulty, a Master Trainer from the Gottman Institute and founder of The Chicago Relationship Center, tells Business Insider. “Much of the same advice given to spouses who seek to make their marriages work also applies to people who want good, productive relationships with their coworkers.”
According to Gottman’s research, any relationship that involves people trying to live and work closely together should be built on trust and commitment and involve positivity, friendship, and successful conflict management.
“First and foremost, good friendships in a company occur when employees feel like they can trust one another,” McNulty says. “Workers have to mostly feel like their bosses and coworkers are acting in their best interests or at least trying to. They have to feel like they have one another’s backs. It is only then that they will feel safe and motivated to invest in their relationships in the workplace.”
In love or at work, people who do these three things are most likely to have positive relationships:
'In marriage, research tells us that knowing one's partner and the important parts of one's partner's world is the basis for friendship and positivity. Spouses feel important when others take time to get to know them,' McNulty says. 'The same holds true at work.'
He says that managers and employees who feel like people are trying to get to know them and care enough to ask about their lives are more likely to feel positive about others at work.
People are also more likely to feel positive about work-based friendships if they feel appreciated.
McNulty teaches a course that includes a video of a therapist working with a real couple who started a company together. 'At one point, the woman says to the man, 'I would almost work free if you would just tell me you appreciate what I do more often.' Her revelation speaks to how much people may need to feel appreciated by those close to them,' McNulty says.
'While most employees will not work for free, they feel a lot more positive about work when they feel appreciated, and they feel most positive about those in the workplace who express authentic appreciation for their talents and contributions.'
Expressing appreciation, he says, could be as simple as commending a colleague on how well they spoke in a meeting or how reliable they are because they arrive to work early everyday. The key is using positive adjectives and then backing them up with specific examples.
'If you think it, try and say it,' McNulty says. 'And if you're not thinking positive thoughts, that may mean that you're scanning for the negative too much and you need to get back into thinking about what you appreciate about the people around you.'
'As in marriage, people who know and appreciate one another are better positioned to connect with one another,' McNulty says.
He explains that spouses who develop rituals for connecting with each other like date night, nightly walks, or phone calls to check-in do better in relationships. Similarly, coworkers who find ways to remain connected keep their work relationships in a more positive place.
'That's why talks around the water cooler, lunch dates, sports teams, and happy hour become so important,' McNulty says.
'That's also why teams and managers have to be sensitive about making assignments of who does what with whom on work projects,' he adds. 'For some employees, their routines of doing projects with certain colleagues may be their way of checking in and remaining connected.'
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