(and workplace relationships)
Not a week goes by without a post on social media about wellness in the workplace. This is a good thing. Never before has there been such a focus on wellbeing. Even though in some instances it may be somewhat distorted, it is a good thing that it exists. But wellness in the workplace is about more than hangry stations and welcome cards.
To function in a complex environment that quite literally depends on the cohesiveness of the team is challenging. We all bring ourselves, our personal lives, biases and past experiences to work with us. It is only natural that these are not always compatible with everyone else’s personal lives, biases and past experiences.
Good relations at work don’t just happen. Like any relationship it requires work – what you put in is what you get out. I find it useful to think about work relationships as I do about close personal relationships, specifically the one between me and my partner. After all I do spend about a third of my life at work. I am perfectly sure there may be other tips and tricks which you should feel free to comment on in the comments section below. These are the ones that work for me.
Recognise that minor infractions are the exception, not the rule
Each of us have different trigger points. These are not character flaws, but simply the result of years and years of being exposed to life. Along the way, we develop coping mechanisms to deal with certain situations that trigger us. Sometimes we have to deal with a colleague’s trigger and sometimes our own. And even if we don’t, we’re all just human. And therefore likely to make mistakes, often unintentional, often in ignorance.
Relationships do better if parties attribute these events as temporary, once-off and external to the relationship. Even if you are absolutely sure your colleague is doing things on purpose just to irritate you, it is more likely that they are not. Example: your colleague missed the meeting that you had to go to instead, because he was stuck with a difficult case and not because he is an inconsiderate worm that always wriggles out of responsibility.
For an extra relationship boost, you can apply it in reverse as well; attributing good things a colleague does as part of that person’s character (established, typical and internal). This takes less work to master and can be a good starting point if you struggle with the above.
This exercise does not ask of you to lie to yourself; just to take a step back and force yourself to take a slightly different look at the situation. One that is perhaps a little closer to reality.
Your job is not a destiny
Sorry, but your job was not meant to be. No matter how much you love it, it is just another job. One that any number of folks could have probably done just as well as you. Harsh as it may sound, this is the best way to think about it as it inspires a growth mindset.
The reason why viewing something as a destiny is dangerous is because it results in binary thinking: it either is or it isn’t meant to be. Psychologists literally refer to this concept as a destiny belief. And herein lies the problem. As long as things are going well, you attribute these to the fulfilment of destiny. However, when things go wrong it shatters that belief and switches you into reverse – perhaps it wasn’t meant to be after all? And then you quit.
Can you see why this is a problem? If it was really your destiny, then you would not have had to put much work into it, would you?
We already said that relationships take work. A destiny belief stunts a growth mindset. The opportunity to learn from yours and others’ mistakes and then grow from it together is better for any relationship.
Example: the reason you received a good CQC report is not because you are awesome, but because you put in a lot of hard work – as a team. Taking time within your departmental governance meetings to reflect on the work that was required to achieve a successful goal is helpful to cultivate a growth mindset. But it is never a good idea to simply take things for granted.
Gratitude is infectious. Even if only a small part of the team shows gratitude regularly, everyone benefits – even the grumpy ones. And teams that experience gratitude on a regular basis enjoy stronger relationships.
The nifty thing for introverts like me is that you do not even have to say a word. Simply take a few minutes every week to consider how grateful you are to work with your colleagues. Focus specifically on being grateful for each colleagues’ contribution, no matter how small. Your attitude change will dictate your body language. And you’ll be surprised at the reciprocal effect this can have on your colleagues – without ever saying a word.
Ed – You can read more about gratitude on this excellent blog from Natalie May.1
Celebrate good news
With access block at the worst ever recorded levels it’s hard to not just want to get to work, get through it and get out. It is indeed a common enemy we can all unite against which has to score something for the team. Right? Wrong. Turns out, sharing good news actually has more positive implications for relationships than sharing hardships.
Social support aids team bonding and is about more than simply getting through the corridor queues2. It is referred to as capitalisation in the psychology world of relationships: highlighting the good times. As a double bonus capitalisation is also associated with increased levels of trust in relationships.
So show enthusiasm when your trainee tells you about their successful shoulder enlocation using the Cunningham technique (which you have often tried, but never mastered). Comment on the intern’s wicked skills when she tells you she cannulated the lady who said she always needs an anaesthetist. Congratulate your colleague on her recent publication. Ask about it, share it with the rest of the team, celebrate it. It will strengthen relationships and build trust in the team.
Talk about good teams
Taking about team dynamic is actually a good way of improving team dynamic. Even if it is not your own team’s dynamic being discussed. This is not news to anyone working in simulation.
Sharing with each other how to improve your team brings the members closer together. This is why it is important to connect colleagues after significant events and make an effort to attend departmental meetings.
Consider the benefit of sharing feedback after a particularly difficult simulation scenario3. Or catching up after pitching the new ED building proposal with the hospital board. Consider the areas you do well in and the areas that can be improved, together. This will help build healthy team relationships.
It’s okay to have work relationships outside your team
This will need a little more explaining and no, I am not a swinger. Not that that is any of your business. I just acknowledge that it is an unrealistic expectation of my partner to share my every interest. Like watching and discussing superhero or sci fi movies. She doesn’t like it. But I have friends that do.
Moving outside your team to address unmet special interests is a healthy way of improving relationships within your team. You cannot expect your team to have a solution for all your needs, or share your every interest. This is particularly true in smaller teams. It is ridiculous, places an unrealistic expectation on them, and leads to resentment if unaddressed.
If you have an interest in PHEM, like to do some clinical research or have a special interest in PEM, but your ED does not offer these, be honest, tell your team and then find a solution outside your team. And since you no longer feel resentful, you will have more time to feel grateful for the things that they can provide – such as the freedom to move outside your team to pursue your interests.
Experiences improve relationships
Knowing when your colleagues’ children have their birthdays, or going family camping together on the Moors certainly suggests a more intimate relationship between colleagues. But we don’t need to be that intimate to grow our team relations.
Having exciting experiences in teams work too. Heidi Edmondson’s ED team engages in regular non-clinical activities such as art, drama and dancing during teaching sessions4,5. How about ordering pizza and having it delivered on a busy night shift? Or racing numerically from cubicle to cubicle on commodes using only one crutch and no feet (all I will say is that I did not invent the concept)? But you get the picture.
Planning and doing nice things together as a team invest team members’ best interests in the team. This improves bonding and helps to grow the relationships within the team.
If you take one thing away after reading this post it is that strong relationships come from working at it. Perhaps you found some of these points helpful. If you did, I would suggest attempting each one by one. I suspect the results will surprise you.
If you have any pointers you would like to share, please add it in the comments below. If you don’t I might believe I am awesome and we have established that destiny beliefs are bad.
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- 1.May N. Attitude of Gratitude: Showing Some Love in the ED. St.Emlyn’s. https://www.stemlynsblog.org/attitude-of-gratitude-showing-some-love-in-the-ed/. Published November 15, 2013. Accessed February 20, 2019.
- 2.Carley S. Studying for FCM (Fellow of Corridor Medicine) at St.Emlyn’s • St Emlyn’s. St.Emlyn’s. https://www.stemlynsblog.org/studying-fcm-fellow-corridor-medicine-st-emlyns/. Published December 19, 2014. Accessed February 20, 2019.
- 3.You searched for feedback • St.Emlyn’s. St.Emlyn’s. https://www.stemlynsblog.org/?s=feedback. Published 2019. Accessed February 20, 2019.
- 4.edmundson heidi. Forum theatre with Heidi Edmundson. St Emlyn’s • St Emlyn’s. St.Emlyn’s. https://www.stemlynsblog.org/forum-theatre-with-heidi-edmundson-st-emlyns/. Published June 25, 2018. Accessed February 20, 2019.
- 5.I introduced fun to the lives of A&E staff. The laughter was infectious. the Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jan/17/introduced-fun-a-and-e-staff. Published January 17, 2019. Accessed February 20, 2019.