How to build positive workplace relationships

This fact sheet provides information about building positive workplace relationships, in particular, for those who are just starting out on their career. It also provides information about how to deal with unprofessional workplace relationships.

Defining a good workplace relationship

There are many important characteristics that make up good, healthy working relationships. These include:-

  • mutual respect
  • open communication
  • empathy
  • trust
  • interpersonal skills
  • building rapport with every member of the team.

Mutual respect

According to Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), dignity and respect top employees’ workplace wish-list. Few people thrive in a bullying, aggressive work atmosphere where they are rarely praised and regularly criticised. Respect for colleagues is an essential part of a good relationship. Whilst we always feel more comfortable in the presence of like-minded people, the realities of the workplace mean that we will often come into contact with people from a far more diverse range of backgrounds than we would in our private life.

The simplest, most effective way of showing respect is to encourage the input and suggestions of colleagues. All members of a pharmacy team are important and all of their views are equally valid. It is important to listen to the views of others and to be prepared to examine viewpoints that may differ from your own. Life would be very dull if we were all the same, therefore learn to accept and celebrate differences and try to maintain a professional and courteous manner at all times.

Here are some suggestions for demonstrating respect:-

  • treat others in a respectful and empathetic way
  • treat all people equally no matter their race, religion, gender, age or sexual orientation
  • never insult people
  • be aware of your body language, tone and demeanour
  • do not constantly criticise colleagues over the little things, or belittle, demean or patronise
  • remember that a series of seemingly trivial actions, added up over time, can constitute bullying.

Open communication

The flow of information between people is a very important part of the workplace. Open communication allows people to express ideas freely without fear of criticism. Do not be afraid of constructive criticism, listen and learn from it to become a better pharmacist and work colleague. Developing good communication skills is particularly advantageous as it also helps pharmacists to deal more effectively with patients.

It is important to bear in mind that communication is about more than just exchanging information. It is also about understanding the emotion and intentions behind the information. Good communication skills help people to connect with others effectively, build trust and respect, and feel heard and understood.

Empathy

Empathy is, at its simplest, an awareness of the feelings and emotions of others. Empathy should not be confused with sympathy, which is the ability to ‘feel’ for somebody, rather it is the state of mind that allows people to feel ‘with’ another person. The ability to empathise is for some people intuitive, however others may need to work on their ability to empathise.

This is a vital skill that all pharmacists should try to develop, not just when dealing with members of their pharmacy team, but also with patients. Compassion, selflessness and being non-judgemental are key factors to developing empathy.

For further information on empathy, see the Skills you need (an organisation which provide resources for improving professional and personal life) website.

Trust

All good relationships are built on trust. Trust is built up by keeping up with work commitments, doing all work to the highest standard and resisting the temptation to gossip. People who can demonstrate that they can get the job done will gain trust from both patients and colleagues.

Interpersonal skills

Interpersonal skills in the workplace are generally related to an employee’s ability to get along with others while getting the job done. Interpersonal skills include everything from communication and listening skills to attitude and deportment. Time spent developing these skills will serve pharmacists well throughout their working life. These include:-

  • verbal and non-verbal communication
  • listening skills
  • negotiation
  • problem-solving and decision-making
  • assertiveness.

Verbal and non-verbal communication

Communication is more than just an exchange of information. Clarity of speech, remaining calm and focused, being polite and following some basic rules of etiquette will all aid the process of communication. However, it is not just what you say, but also how you say it. People will also take into account factors such as eye contact, body posture and body movement. Be prepared to adjust your verbal and non-verbal communication to fit the situation, for example, pharmacists may adopt a different style when talking to a patient as opposed to a work colleague.

Listening skills 

Another important aspect of effective communication is listening skills. Poor listening skills mean that messages can be misunderstood or misinterpreted and this can prove frustrating. Our ability to listen effectively depends on the degree to which we perceive and understand both verbal and non-verbal messages. A good listener will not only listen to what is being said, but also note what is left unsaid or only partially said.

Negotiation

Effective negotiation helps to resolve situations where what one person wants may conflict with what another colleague wants. Ideally, it is best to find a solution that is acceptable to all parties. Identifying common goals and being willing to compromise will normally result in an effective solution.

Problem-solving and decision-making

No job comes without problems. Ignoring problems in the hope that they might go away is not a solution. The best way to deal with problems is to view them as challenges and then consider how best to overcome them. Where challenges have a number of possible solutions, good decision making skills are required. Where possible, listen to the opinion of others before making a decision and reflect on the impact any decision will have on others, for example, patients and work colleagues.

Assertiveness 

Not everybody is naturally assertive, and often people are not confident enough to assert themselves in the workplace. Being assertive means expressing yourself effectively and standing up for your, or another’s point of view, without being aggressive or inconsiderate to others. As a responsible pharmacist it is important to become accustomed to taking the lead and have the confidence to instruct team members about good working practices.

The Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education (CPPE) offers a guide on assertiveness. Working through this programme should help pharmacists to see personal benefits such as increased confidence, self-esteem and self-motivation. For further information, see the CPPE website.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a technique that can help people to build good relationships. Mindfulness is a thought process that allows us to pay attention to, and see clearly what is happening in our lives. People who practice mindfulness are careful about what they say and try not to let their own negative emotions impact on the people around them. They also take responsibility for their own words and actions.

Mindfulness can help to reduce stress and anxiety and conflict, and increase resilience and emotional intelligence, while improving communication in the workplace. It can be helpful to consider the following questions when deciding whether you are mindful. Are you:-

  • unable to remember what others have said during conversations
  • dwelling on past events and dreading what the future holds
  • unable to recollect your daily commute
  • eating at your desk/work-space without tasting your food?

If the answer to some or all of the above is yes, it is likely that you are spending at least some of your time at work on automatic pilot. For further information about mindfulness and how to incorporate it into your life, see our Mindfulness fact sheet.

What to do when things go wrong 

Naturally, there are times when professional relationships do not develop in an appropriate manner. It is important to recognise and remedy these situations as soon as possible before the behaviour towards you becomes entrenched.

Dealing with conflict in the workplace

Often, relatively trivial things can become a source of conflict. Disputes over who used the last of the milk, whose turn it is to put the kettle on and who last emptied the bin can lead to resentment. The CPPE has produced a guide to resolving conflict that can help people to understand why conflict happens and what can be done to either prevent it from happening in the first place, or learning to manage such situations when needed.

Bullying and harassment

ACAS describes bullying as:

offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient. Bullying or harassment may be by an individual against an individual (perhaps by someone in a position of authority such as a manager or supervisor) or involve groups of people. It may be obvious or it may be insidious. Whatever form it takes, it is unwarranted and unwelcome to the individual.

Bullying can have a devastating effect on the victim and seriously impact their health and mental wellbeing. It can lead to loss of self-confidence and self-esteem and feelings of anxiety, humiliation, frustration and anger. It can also give rise to sleep or eating disorders, depression, alcohol or drug abuse and even suicidal thoughts. It may result in absence from work and can severely damage both work and home life.

How to deal with bullying

Bullying can be gradual and insidious and consequently it may be a while before you realise and acknowledge what is happening to you. So a first step is to accept that you are being bullied. It is easy to feel that you have somehow caused it to happen but it is important to remember that bullying is not your fault and no one has the right to treat you like that. It may help to avoid situations where you are alone with the bully.

For further information about bullying and how to deal with it, see our Bullying fact sheet.

Sexual harassment

Citizens Advice defines sexual harassment as when someone behaves in a way which makes you feel distressed, intimidated or offended and the behaviour is of a sexual nature.  Sexual harassment is not about fun or friendship but about abuse of power. Sexual harassment can include:-

  • sexual comments or jokes
  • physical behaviour, including unwelcome sexual advances, touching and ‘accidentally’ brushing up against you
  • questions or comments about your sex life
  • promises or threats concerning employment conditions in return for sexual favours.

Safe workers (an organisation that gives advice on safety at work) suggests that initially you could confront the harasser, as it may be that their perception of harassment is not the same as yours. They may not have realised that you find their behaviour offensive, however, this does not mean that it was not wrong or that you should not complain about it..

They suggest that when confronting the harasser you should:-

  • speak clearly and slowing, maintaining direct eye contact
  • describe the behaviour, its effects on you and that you want it to stop
  • ignore any attempts to trivialise or dismiss what you have to say
  • not smile or apologise as this will undermine your complaint
  • when you have finished what you want to say, walk away.

It might help to have a trade union representative or work colleague with you when confronting your harasser. If you feel that you cannot speak to your harasser directly, you could ask a colleague/trade union representative to speak on your behalf.

If the harassment continues, you should alert your manager or your company’s HR department and keep a note of every incident that follows, including time, date and whether there were any witnesses. You might want to consider seeking expert advice from your trade union or contact Pharmacist support for a referral to a specialist employment adviser.

Inappropriate tutor/pre-registration trainee relationship

The pre-registration year is designed to help you to learn the many different skills you will need to become a qualified pharmacist. Occasionally, tutors will have to give trainees constructive criticism. It is helpful to try to use this as a valuable opportunity from which to learn. Being open and learning from previous mistakes will make you a better pharmacist.

Occasionally, tutors will behave in a manner that demonstrates disrespect for others or act in an unprofessional manner with regards to interpersonal contact. Whilst there is an element of subjectivity in both the witnessing and experiencing of such behaviours, some actions are clearly inappropriate conduct. These include:-

  • unwanted physical contact
  • sexual harassment, including romantic relationships between tutors and pre-registration trainees
  • harassment based on gender, age, race, disability, religion or sexual orientation
  • lack of personal civility, for example shouting, throwing objects and personal attacks or insults
  • requests for trainees to perform inappropriate tasks that are clearly not related to their pre-registration training (for further information on appropriate tasks see below)
  •  evaluations/sign-offs based on factors unrelated to performance, effort or level of achievement.

Appropriate tasks

It is important for trainees to understand that not every task in the pharmacy will be directly related to their training to become a pharmacist. Working in a pharmacy involves a range of tasks, some of which are more mundane than others. Trainees should expect to perform tasks such as emptying bins, date checking items from uncollected prescriptions and making tea.

Showing willing with these tasks can go a long way to being an accepted part of the team. However, this should not be all that trainees do on any given day.

Support for trainees in difficulty

If trainees find it difficult to approach their tutor, they could try any of the following:-

  • enlist the help of a colleague to mediate
  • contact their HR department
  • talk to their trade union representative
  • follow their employer’s internal grievance procedures
  • contact Pharmacist Support for specialist employment advice.

Trainees who wish to raise a concern about their training can do so via the GPhC’s raising concerns about pharmacy education and training form. For full details, see the GPhC website.