Document Type

Book Chapter

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Problematic Relationships in the Workplace


When considering problematic workplace relationships, the question naturally arises of how people can deal most effectively with these challenges. What people most want with difficult relationships is a way to make the problems go away. That desire calls for research on strategies to transform problematic relationships into non-problematic relations. For this issue, there is both good news and bad news.

First, the bad news: There are few easy answers when dealing with problematic relations. Problematic relationships are difficult by definition. Relationships that involve challenges a person can easily resolve are not difficult relationships. The co-construction of these relationships often intertwines the weaknesses of both individuals. Given the infinite array of the resulting constructions, there are few actions that will improve every difficult relationship. Communication that makes one relationship less problematic might have no effect on another, or it could even inflame the problems. Thus, effective communicative responses to problematic relationships must be tailored to each individual case. Persons seeking a simple and universal fix are bound to be disappointed.

Now the good news: The variety of causes and difficult nature of these relationships do not preclude research generating insights into their resolution. An examination of problematic workplace relationships can offer essential background to help guide the improvement of almost any difficult relationship. Even though optimal responses vary across relationships, we can still craft useful strategies for identifying problematic issues and responding to them. And, despite the need to adapt communicative strategies to the specific people and situation involved, some behaviors may be documented to have fairly widespread utility. Research can identify those communicative approaches that seem applicable to a wide range of problematic relationships.

This chapter explores the experiences of working professionals who have wrestled with difficult relationships, sometimes seeing those relationships improve, sometimes finding no relief to the challenges of those relationships. Their stories offer useful insights into how people can communicate most effectively in the workplace when relationships become problematic.

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Peter Lang Publishing Group

Place of Publication

New York, NY