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How to be a good coworker

Make the most of your professional relationships with these 5 research-backed tips.

Enjoying your job stems from more than just the work you do. Anyone who’s experienced having a great coworker or having a not-so-great coworker can attest to how critical it is to have positive relationships with the people you spend your professional life with.

To learn how to make the most of your in-office relationships, we asked the experts in UF Warrington’s Department of Management for their best tips on being a good coworker. Read on for their research-backed advice.

Amir Erez, Klodiana Lanaj and Brian Swider

Management department faculty (from left) Amir Erez, Klodiana Lanaj and Brian Swider.

Don’t be rude

“While it seems like a no-brainer when it comes to being a good coworker, being rude can have devastating consequences on people. Our research has shown that being rude to someone impacts their wellbeing and functioning. Specifically, it affects their cognitive ability, even when they are highly motivated, and impacts their working memory. In studies involving medical staff, we’ve found that when they experience rudeness, medical professionals are more likely to make mistakes. Our research also shows that rudeness spreads. Even if rude behaviors are unintentional, they can still impact others, leading to an even wider range of individuals who can experience a decline in performance and decision making due to rudeness.” – Amir Erez, W.A. McGriff, III Professor

Be a perspective thinker

“To be a good coworker, being able to train yourself to be a perspective taker is important. When you think from another person’s perspective, and imagine that you are walking in their shoes, it enables you to engage in ‘good coworker’ behaviors, like not being rude (as noted in the first tip) and empathizing, which improves your interactions with others.” – Amir Erez, W.A. McGriff, III Professor

Express gratitude

“Expressing gratitude to a coworker for the help they provide, how well they listen, or for how well they do their job can go a long way in building stronger relationships at work. Research suggests that we don’t say ‘thank you’ enough to each other because we overestimate the awkwardness of expressing gratitude and downplay the positive impact that such expressions tend to have on the relationship. However, there is growing empirical evidence showing that expressing gratitude at work enhances your own work engagementrelationship closeness with coworkers and even team creativity. We all can find something we genuinely like about a coworker, from how responsive they are with email to how cordial they are with their clients. Next time you interact with a coworker, make it a point to highlight something they do well at work and that you appreciate. It will help both of you feel better and be more productive at work.” – Klodiana Lanaj, Martin L. Schaffel Professor  

Show self-compassion

“It may sound counterintuitive, but another way to be a better coworker is by showing self-compassion. Self-compassion means that you choose to treat yourself as you would treat a good friend. When things get tough, or when you make a mistake at work, you choose to show kindness, patience, and understanding toward yourself, instead of using harsh words, judgment, and self-criticism. This attitude of self-compassion allows you to learn and grow at work, and to be kind to those around you as well. For example, in recent research, my coauthors and I find that self-compassion motivates employees to help coworkers more, not only with work related problems, but also with personal issues. Other research suggests that self-compassion reduces burnout, the sense of exhaustion that many of us have experienced during the pandemic.” – Klodiana Lanaj, Martin L. Schaffel Professor  

Employ peacekeeping behaviors

“This type of ‘good coworker’ behavior involves an employee acting as an intermediary, or diplomat, between two or more coworkers when they have disagreements. Importantly, these are typically not a part of that employee’s assigned work role. Yet, these discretionary actions by employees do improve the social and psychological environment of the organization. Moreover, even if they are not formally expected according to an employee’s job description, peacekeeping-type citizenship behaviors have been shown to improve outcomes for the organization and individual (e.g., job performance ratings, reward recommendations; Podsakoff et al., 2009). By mediating these types of conflicts when they arise, the employee is helping their fellow employees develop solutions to resolve any (interpersonal) differences.” – Brian Swider, Beth Ayers McCague Faculty Fellow

Check out more management and workplace-related insights from the Department of Management in the Warrington Newsroom