You know the cliché about how job searching is like dating? Yes, you’ve heard it way too many times. So have I. But the thing about clichés is they often achieve that infamous status because they’re true—or at least contain a grain of truth.
If that overused analogy can provide useful insight when you’re interviewing, then maybe the idea can be extended further to help you navigate work relationships (the platonic co-worker kind) once you’ve landed a job.
That’s what I was thinking as I read an article by The Cut’s Cari Romm on “The Relationship Advice That’s Extra Helpful When You’re Super-Stressed.”
Romm writes about going to premarital counseling with her fiancé and coming away with a memorable piece of advice: “Always be on the same side of the problem.”
“Being on the same side of the problem didn’t have to mean seeing eye to eye, our officiant explained; it just meant identifying something as a shared goal within a disagreement,” she says. And as she describes it, that gem has already proven itself useful with her partner as well as with family and friends.
Now, if job searching is like dating, then maybe jobs are like long-term relationships, if not engagements or marriages (because very few people today intend to stay at the same company for their entire career). And, at least in this case, the advice couldn’t translate better to resolving conflicts in the workplace.
Work is rife with opportunities for disagreement. And it’s not necessarily on some grand scale. You don’t have to have an arch nemesis at the office or be embroiled in screaming matches to have a chance to apply this advice.
Think about small, everyday encounters with people on your team or across departments. Maybe you disagree about what a big project should look like. Or can’t seem to get on the same page about what steps to take in what order. It’s getting a little uncomfortable and the tension is making the whole thing harder.
You won’t always be able to persuade one another, but you can remind yourself that you have a shared goal. Surely you can all say you want the project to be done on time and to be deemed a success. With that in mind, you can reframe the problem. It’s you and your co-workers striving to hit a deadline and get the best results. And it’s one team fighting together against any obstacles that stand in your way.
It’s another way to say that you should assume good intent. Unless you’re in a toxic office or dealing with a truly terrible colleague, when your co-worker suggests something, they’re not doing it to sabotage the project. They, too, want the best outcome. Sometimes all it takes to prevent or de-escalate a developing disagreement is a reminder that you’re on the same side in the grand scheme of things. And once that’s your mindset, it’s much easier to move forward.
“No matter how at odds your viewpoints appear to be, there’s always, somewhere deep down, some mutual desire. At the very least, that desire is to stop arguing and resolve things,” Romm writes. “And voilà, you’re now starting from a place of agreement.”
So next time you feel a conflict brewing at work, take a deep breath, articulate to yourself in your wisest inner monologue voice how you and so-and-so share a common goal, remind yourself what it is, use language that reflects that when you’re talking to them, and proceed from there.
And if you’re not 100% sure you have the same objective, bring that up! Ask them what their goal is for this project—because if it’s not the same as yours, resolving that, or even just bringing it to light, could help resolve a lot of stress.
It’s pretty much guaranteed to make for smoother sailing than if you pit yourself against everyone around you. Plus, you’d much rather become known as the employee who can work with anyone and get things done than the one who’s constantly slowed down or distracted by minor disagreements.