Work is difficult enough without having to deal with a grumpy boss, a chatty coworker, or an obnoxious neighbor. Unfortunately all of us have had the unpleasant experience of working with someone we cannot get along with. At work we often deal with stress from the job- not just stress from our job description but from people we work with also. Stress and tension in the workplace greatly affects productivity and in the end, profits as well.


It's tempting to try to change other people in order to get them to see things our way. Who can blame us? In our formative years we may have seen how easily the TV characters resolved their issues and reached harmonious agreements at the end of every episode. As much as we may dream of that kind of harmony, we know that those "perfect" relationships are a fantasy. The reality is more interesting, but also more challenging.


Unmet expectations and trying to change other people are perhaps two of the greatest contributors to disharmony. One of the most important skills you can acquire to achieve a less stressful work life is to learn to accept people as they are. Of course, accepting others as they are is easy in theory – as long as you don't actually have to live with them! Nevertheless, you will find that the following principles will help you to gain greater control over your own actions and establish a foundation for building workplace harmony:


1. Accept Others As They Are


No matter how hard you try, you cannot change another person. Trying to do so only leads to frustration and exhaustion. Your greatest sphere of influence is yourself; therefore, change will radiate to others as a result of the improvements you make to yourself.


To demonstrate this principle, Author Gary Zukav described on Oprah how skilled roofers catch an object thrown to them when they are perched on a rooftop. They extend their arm, but will catch the object only if it is within arm's reach. If the toss falls short, they will not lean out and reach for it. They will let the object fall to the ground. Roofers know that reaching too far leads to disaster. The length of their arm is the radius of their sphere of control.


We often reach too far when we try to change other people instead of accepting them as they are. If you extend your arm and move it in a circle around your head, the circle surrounds the only person you have the ability to change – yourself. You have no power to change anyone else. Therefore, one of the most powerful ways to effect change in others is to change yourself. Giving up the fight to control others frees you to determine your own response to work issues and challenges. When you shift the focus to yourself and your own behavior, you actually gain control over others.


2. Set Boundaries


Acceptance does not mean you become a doormat, tolerate disrespectful behavior, or never set boundaries. Nor does it mean you avoid the truth or deny reality. Acceptance is not the same thing as agreeing with or condoning inappropriate actions. Sometimes we may feel selfish, guilty, or afraid of what the other person will think of us if we set boundaries. But boundaries help our relationships, as long as they are set with an attitude of respect.


Practice this strategy the next time you are confronted with a contentious colleague. If you are dealing with an irate coworker, explain that you would like to discuss the issue with him or her, but you prefer to wait until he or she has calmed down and is ready to discuss the situation rationally. Refuse to argue or engage in a power struggle with the colleague who wants to launch a debate and prove her way is right. The more often you set boundaries, the fewer disharmonies you will encounter.


3. Keep a Kind Heart and an Open Mind


Act with a kind heart and an open mind in your relationships with others. If you feel yourself revving up for an argument, remove yourself from the situation and take a twenty-minute time-out to get centered and calm your nerves. Maintain an attitude of respect, and resolve issues rationally. Teach through your actions as much as possible, through natural and logical consequences, using as few words as possible.


4. Look Within


Our ability to accept others is closely tied to our own self-esteem. When we love ourselves, we can more easily accept others as they are. When we feel hurt, rejected, or unloved, acceptance is difficult.


What bothers us about someone else is often the same condition we recognize in ourselves. We notice the flaw because we are so familiar with it. The advice we give to others might also be what we need to hear ourselves. Consider the following questions when you are struggling to accept another person as he or she is, and before confronting the individual:

  • What am I doing to inhibit acceptance?
  • Do I have the same characteristic I view as a flaw in someone else?
  • Am I struggling with self-love?
  • Am I struggling for control? (Control is an element of most disagreements.)
  • Am I struggling to belong?
  • Is my motive self-seeking?
  • Do I want the other person to change to help me look or feel better?
  • Have I acknowledged that the other person has his own issues?
  • Am I valuing being right more than harmony in the workplace?

Asking yourself these questions before engaging in a discussion with the other person will help you deal with the issues in an honest and rational manner.
When you practice these four approaches you will see a remarkable change in the way others willingly respond to you. As a result, everyone can then begin to work together to achieve greater harmony and productivity within the company.


Chris Karcher is a relationship and spirituality expert. She is the author of Relationships of Grace and Amazing Things I Know About You, how-to guides on making personal and professional relationships more meaningful and fulfilling through grace. After managing multi-million dollar computer programs, Chris found her calling and became the spirituality and relationship expert that she is today. She can help you develop more meaningful family, personal and professional relationships and is also available for keynote speeches and seminars. Chris can be reached at:

Opportunity: To learn more about improving your relationships, loving yourself, and living with meaning, read the acclaimed book Relationships of Grace.