Work Relationships

Do you recognise any of these situations?

Work relationships

Do you recognise any of these situations?

“The head no longer speaks to me directly unless to reprimand.”


“School is not a very happy work place at the moment (…) we are constantly shouted at and moaned from management.”


“Some parents … are a significant barrier to the their children’s success… to some we (teachers) are punchbags for parents’ anger”


“Their definitely needs to be some sort of training to help younger teachers learn to interact positively with upset parents.”


*(Quotes taken from the TSN Health and Wellbeing survey 2011 and Beyond the School Gate from Teacher Support Network and Family Lives 2009/10. Names have been changed)•

The good news is that people in the UK are generally happy with their relationships at work. According to figures from the ONS:

“just under 9 in 10 (87%) of the working population of the EU-25 in 2004 reported that they were satisfied with the people that they worked with compared with just over 9 in 10 (91%) in the UK. Conversely, 8 per cent of the working population of the EU-25 reported that they were not satisfied with the people that they worked with compared with 4 per cent in the UK”.

Similarly, According to the 2004 Workplace Employment Relations Survey

“just under 1 in 20 (19%) of employees in workplaces with 10 or more people in the UK reported that relationships between managers and employers were very good, while just over 4 in 10 (41%) reported relations as good. Just over 1 in 10 (12%) described relations as poor and 4% as very poor”.

Types of relationship

Staff in education have to deal with a number of different types of relationships with varied types of people. The difficulty is knowing how to manage the different needs, expectations and requirements of each of these roles. These roles will also change as careers progress. Think about all the relationships that you currently have within your workplace. Try writing some of these relationships down:

  • Mentor
  • Colleague
  • Classroom teacher
  • Friend
  • Union rep

Look at your list. Ask yourself how these relationships are different. Think about how you communicate with your colleagues when you are in each of these roles.

What skills are required for each of them? Where are your strengths? What relationships are more challenging than other? Do you struggle to communicate in certain roles?

You can now begin to think more about the relationships you have at work.

Difficult relationships

Conflict or discomfort among colleagues can result from a number of behaviours, including:

  • Unbalanced teamwork – where one member of the team does not pull his or her weight
  • Lack of support from a mentor
  • Disagreements over approaches to particular pupils, curriculum or staffing issues
  • Competitiveness over areas of responsibility or expertise
  • … or any number of problems that occur when people just don’t get on.

The common factor is conflict: a direct disagreement between participants. Disagreements consist of both the objective point at issue and the subjective emotional involvement invested by the participants. Both elements must be addressed for effective resolution. Resolving the emotional side requires you to understand the situation from the other person’s point of view. This can be particularly hard when your personalities are very different.

I’m different, he’s difficult, they’re impossible

We cannot get on with everyone we meet. All of us have character traits that will cause difficulty for others. We need to understand those differences in order to cope with them. We also need to understand how conflict can arise in dealing with a difficult person. Different personality types react in characteristic ways in conflict situations. Recognising these dynamics is the first step to coping with the situation, and you can begin by recognising your own role: are you the difficult person?

Improving your own response to conflict

  1. Learn to recognise and control your defence mechanism. Identify your triggers. Consider what always makes you angry. Do certain words instantly provoke a reaction? Are you irritable before your coffee? Are their certain times of day you are better than other?

  2. Next identify how you usually react? Do you tend to shout back? Do you withdraw? Can you be passive aggressive? Are you too nice?

  3. Now that you understand, how you react and respond, try the following:

  • Learn to listen;
  • Be open and receptive;
  • Ensure that you understand what is being said to you;
  • Learn about yourself, your own strengths and weaknesses;
  • Try to work on your weaknesses.

If you feel that your own behaviour is not the only factor in the conflict, perhaps the source of your difficulty is an inability to find a shared basis for communication.

That’s why knowing about different types of difficult people can help: personality types are a framework to assess your responses to someone and so understand how much of the problem is them and how much is you. You can then alter your behaviour accordingly in a controlled way to get results.

There will obviously be situations in which you do not have time to diagnose a personality type, but there are some useful tips you can use: - watch the person to see if there are repeat occurrences of the behaviour. If it happens more than twice, it is unlikely to be an accident. - think about stress, not only for the person involved but also yourself. Stress clouds the judgement and alters your world-view. - try talking on a personal level to the individual. It might not resolve the difficulty in itself, but it will certainly help in your assessment of your mutual situation.

Sometimes an external facilitator or mediation service can assist when two or more people would like their relationships to be better. This can often prevent problems from escalating and keeps the control of the outcome with the parties concerned.

You may wish to revisit the Seven distinct types of difficult people in our Workload section for more tips about how to cope with difficult personalities at work.

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From Education Support Partnership