Are you a good co-worker? Ask yourself these five questions to discover your ‘positive peer impact’...

co worker communication

Research shows that the most effective way to influence our happiness is to work on our relationships with others — and that includes those in the workplace. Positive workplace interaction has been shown to raise job satisfaction levels and increase retention[1], yet when we think about workplace relationships we tend to focus predominantly on those with our line managers and/or direct reports. In this feature, we’ll look at peer relationships, and how we can understand if we’re contributing as positively as we can to our colleagues’ work-life experience. Asking some key questions can be a useful way to check in and help highlight any areas we might need to work on for maximum positive peer impact.


Do I show empathy?

Empathy is a powerful skill that can pave the way to productive working relationships. An important part of emotional intelligence — a skillset broadly defined as the capacity to understand and manage your emotions effectively — empathy has been shown as key to our ability to connect with people. Indeed, research by the Center for Creative Leadership showed empathy in the workplace to lead to more positive outcomes, while managers practicing empathetic leadership were viewed as better performers by their bosses. Using empathy effectively means being able to put aside your own viewpoint in order to see things from the other person's perspective, a practice that can then allow you to recognise behaviour for what it really is. A reaction by a colleague that looks at first to be stubborn or unreasonable can be understood with more nuance when seen as being rooted in a person's current challenges or prior experiences. Ultimately, greater understanding through empathy allows you to respond, rather than react, whether that’s being compassionate when someone is having a bad day rather than complaining to others, understanding that the real reason a colleague might be dragging their heels is because they’re overloaded, but don’t want to say so, or spotting that a colleague wants to put themselves forward for a project but perhaps needs encouragement and support.


Does information stop with me?

Discretion is a subtle superpower in group dynamics, and although it can be tempting to pass on a juicy bit of information or speculate on something that may or may not be happening with a colleague, being able to keep certain things to yourself is a discipline that will be noticed and appreciated. Becoming part of the gossip mill, whether participating in, instigating or even agreeing with a negative comment someone else makes, both undermines your professional standing and leads co-workers to assume that they too may one day be talked about negatively without their knowledge. Getting a reputation for casual gossip or worse, using it deliberately to sabotage people, a political office phenomenon noted in a study[2] by the University of Indiana, is also the quickest way to ensure that no one will ever confide in you or come to you for professional advice. As such, staying out of office gossip confers an aura of trustworthiness and professionalism in people’s minds and is a powerful personal investment, not to mention a mark of respect for colleagues.


Do I respect others’ time?

Being five minutes late for a meeting or sending something back the day after a deadline might not seem like a big deal at the time, but these increments add up to considerable time erosion and it’s important to consider how your actions impact on others. Your co-workers’ time is as valuable as your own, and explicitly empathising with this in the way you interact is a mark of respect with powerful implications for workplace relations — a survey by the Harvard Business Review[3] found respect to be the key behavioural driver to greater commitment and engagement among workers. As such, doing simple things such as checking in with team members before you schedule meetings or sign off deadlines they’re involved in, as well as avoiding scheduling unnecessary or last-minute meetings, calling colleagues out of office hours or interrupting people when they are clearly deep in work can be signals of great teamwork and allow people to see how you would like to be treated in turn.


Do I celebrate others’ achievements as well as my own?

Appreciation can go a long way toward creating positive and happy working environments, and we all know how great it feels to feel good about our own achievements. But giving regular praise and recognition to others has also been shown to raise satisfaction levels and even influence productivity in the workplace, according to research by the Fast Company which showed a 12 per cent higher return in effective responses and creativity from happy employees[4] . In addition, feeling validated in work and performance can provide greater motivation and confidence for people to think about going the extra mile and fulfil their potential. Importantly, it’s not only bosses that can promote a sense of positive acknowledgement — co-workers can also have a big impact, noting good work done by others and celebrating their achievements. This can mean anything from verbal recognition in a meeting to recommending someone for an award or even just a thoughtful email behind the scenes. And congratulations do not need to be reserved just for work issues — noting weddings, birthdays or saying well done for a sponsored event or personal triumph can all help to remind people they're part of a supportive team.


Do I communicate clearly enough?

Being the person who speaks succinctly and with clarity will make you popular in a world of wafflers. Good communication skills are vital for good relations, improving understanding, mitigating conflict and increasing collaboration, but importantly communication doesn’t just mean what you say, but how you say it — and when. Are you checking in with people to see if they are available to speak, rather than presuming it is always a good moment for them? Do you get to the point quickly when you talk and let them know why what you’re communicating is relevant to them at that time? And do you practice active listening when in conversation, making a conscious effort to hear not only the words but the message that’s being communicated by the other party and acknowledging it, something that research shows helps people to feel better understood. If not, it might be time to work on your listening skills as well as your brevity and precision in speech. Clarity and economy extends to electronic communication too. Put clear subject headers in emails for easy filtering, don’t send non-urgent emails out of office hours to reduce stress levels for the recipient — and keep points concise, ordered and with clear calls to action if needed. But more than that, consider whether you even need to send that email? Sometimes quicker results can be achieved by walking over (whether that’s physically or via ‘Zoom’ or your comms platform of choice) and asking someone a question directly, and not leaving your question hanging around them digitally to further clog up their inbox.


[1] Hodson, 2004; Moynihan and Pandey, 2008

[2] Journal citation: "Gossip at Work: Unsanctioned Evaluative Talk in Formal School Meetings," Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 38(5) 584-618.

[3] https://hbr.org/2015/05/the-leadership-behavior-thats-most-important-to-employees

[4] https://www.fastcompany.com/3048751/happy-employees-are-12-more-productive-at-work