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How to Deal with Challenges in Your Workplace Relationships

Updated: Feb 8

***Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical, legal, or health advice and is not a substitute for mental health services

Difficulties in workplace relationships can put a strain on your mental health, energy level, overall productivity, and daily work life.

While you may not be able to change your coworkers, you can explore coping strategies to deal with these relationship difficulties. See below for some tips and tricks that could be helpful to you.

Talk with the person, if you are comfortable doing so

Sometimes, tackling the issue head-on in an objective and focused way can be helpful in resolving the problem. If you feel that talking with the person could be beneficial compared to the risks, then go ahead and let them know how you are feeling.

Stay focused on the facts and try to remain neutral. See if they are willing to work with you to resolve the impasse and develop a more positive working relationship.

If they are open to collaborating you in an effective way, there may be an opportunity to improve your connection or at least reduce the strain, even a little.

Create healthy boundaries

If the person is not keen to reach a compromise and meet you halfway once after you speak with them, then perhaps it makes sense to start creating more boundaries at this point. Work with that person when you need to, and keep your distance when you don’t.

Giving yourself space can help reduce the frequency with which you have to deal with the uncomfortable interactions and allows you to protect yourself from constant irritation and distress.

Focus on what you can control

You may not be able to control someone else’s behaviour, but you can control yours. Try to focus on how you are interacting with this person and what you bring to the table. Monitor your tone, body language, what you say, and how you say it, and try to manage your emotions where possible.

If you find you often get frustrated, agitated, or anxious, take some deep breaths and prepare yourself before you have to go into that room, pick up that phone, or send that email.

Celebrate small wins or successes in your daily communications

When the interactions always seem challenging, frustrating, and upsetting, it can be hard to remind yourself of the occasional positive moments.

Consider the times where the interactions have gone well, when you have been able to work effectively together, or when the conversation did not seem as difficult or tense.

This doesn’t take away from or minimize the issues you are dealing with, but it does highlight that there are some good times interwoven with tough times, which may be otherwise lost or hard to see in the shuffle.

Use positive affirmations and hold onto your strengths, skills, and abilities

When you are in a stressful moment with that person, use positive affirmations if that helps you - any statement that enables you to focus on a more optimistic outlook such as “I will get through this”, “let it go”, “stay calm”, “I’m not going to let them get to me”, etc.

It can also be useful to recall your strengths, skills, and abilities. Reminding yourself of these high points about yourself can help you stay balanced when you are impacted by negative words, statements, or behaviours from others.

For example, what do you do that brings a lot of value to your workplace? What are some examples of positive things that others have said to you about working and connecting with you? What would you or others say are your top skills or strengths? Think about your many great attributes - this may help you when you are feeling upset.

Call your Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP), counsellor, or therapist to get emotional support

Feel free to make use of the counselling services available to you through your employer, such as the Employee and Family Assistance Program. If you already have a private counsellor, feel free to access their support to focus on this issue at a pace and intensity that suits you.

If you don’t have a counsellor but or would like the more open-ended and flexible service that a therapist can provide, then try to find a counsellor who you feel is a good fit for you.

Speak with your manager or human resources representative and ask how they can help you

If you continue to feel very distressed and believe that reaching out to a supervisor, your human resources representative, or another leader could be helpful, then make an appointment to inform them of the sensitive situation you are in.

It might help to make some notes to help you stay on topic, focus on your priorities, and describe the issue as objectively as possible. This supervisor or leader may be able to share an external viewpoint that could shed more light on the matter, help you approach it in an alternative way, or even mediate between you and the other person in extreme circumstances.

At the end of the day, you may still need to continue working with this person you are struggling with, so it is understandable that you want to advocate for yourself while also protecting yourself from further difficulties or possible new challenges. Sometimes getting others involved can be beneficial and sometimes it may not be.

You are the best judge of your predicament and can make a decision by taking all of the important factors into account, including reflecting on your own relationship with your supervisor and other leaders and whether you feel you can trust them to treat the matter confidentially, objectively, and in a supportive manner. Carefully consider the pros and cons and getting others involved and choose the best option for you.

Wishing you well on your mental health journey.

Davina Tiwari MSW, RSW, CSFT

Registered Social Worker and Certified Solution Focused Therapist

If you are an adult in Ontario or Alberta seeking online therapy and you would like to request a free 15 minute phone consultation with Meaningful Independence, please Book An Appointment or reach out directly under the Contact page.

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