I’ve never met anyone who says they can’t wait to get to the office and have a horrible time with their co-workers. Yet, this is the reality for many of us.
Relationships at work can be tricky. Sometimes we struggle to find the common ground that can unite us, and we forget that we’re working toward a common goal to achieve results.
There is likely only one thing standing between us and better relationships: withholding.
We are used to hearing this word when it comes to our taxes, but we don’t often think of it within the context of our emotions, even though withholding our feelings and thoughts creates a greater tax on a relationship than any that the IRS could impose.
Consider the following scenario:
You are waiting for your colleague — we will call him Bob — who told you that he will meet you at 3:30pm to leave together for a meeting. It is 3:45pm and Bob still hasn’t shown up. You wander over to his office to see what’s up, only to find him at his computer still hacking away at emails.
Upon your arrival, he scurries to gather his papers and you both rush off to the meeting, now running 10 minutes late. Of course, these sorts of things happen, so you really don’t say anything about your level of annoyance.
The next day, you are excited to get the presentation put together that you and Bob will be presenting at an upcoming retreat. Bob said he would have the month-end financials summarized for you, and already put on a PowerPoint slide.
You login to your work email, but there is nothing from Bob. So you email him to see if he has it for you. Nothing. No response for 4 hours.
Finally, you see him in the hallway and remind him about the slide. He explains how busy he was during the day, but he’ll have it to you tomorrow.
At this point, your annoyance knows no bounds.
But, being the polite, professional person that you are, you say nothing and wander back to your office, absolutely ready to kill Bob. And just think, you’ll get to board a plane with him later that week and spend two days out of town together.
You’ve withheld your experience from Bob. And now, you do the only thing a person in this situation can do: you withdraw from the relationship.
It’s a bit like taking your ball and just going home.
You also start telling yourself all kinds of stories about Bob. He is so unreliable, and he’s such a jerk! You think about Bob and his issues a lot more than you should, and you know it.
Finally, for good measure, you share your experience with everyone. Well, everyone except Bob.
The truth is we can’t have a good relationship with someone with whom we are withholding our feelings and our experience. Any psychologist, counselor, or coach worth their salt will tell you this.
Withholding doesn’t save us from an uncomfortable interaction, it actually creates one.
Office norms can certainly reinforce this approach, as many are still based on the old belief that we should appear in control and in command at all times. In other words, inhuman.
By revealing what is happening for us, we give the relationship a chance to grow through its challenges, and we build trust. By withholding, we create less safety in the relationship.
Not to mention that the other person likely already knows that you are having a less than savory experience with them. The logical brain (the part telling you not to say anything) reacts in about 600 milliseconds. However, emotion is transmitted in 100 milliseconds.
This means that your face and your body have been expressing what you really feel 500 milliseconds faster than your logical brain can choose to stuff your feelings. It may keep you from saying words, but the emotion has already been transmitted.
The only question then becomes how committed are you to having thriving relationships at work? Will you reveal or will you withhold?