Episode 212 - Tricky Relationships at work

212. Tricky Relationships at Work

About this Podcast

Ep. 212 – Workplace relationships can be challenging.

It takes time to get to know people at work, understand their often differing styles, and to develop trust. And chances are high that there is at least one in the group that we find ‘difficult’ to work with.

And while our communication skills and competencies tend to improve as we climb the ranks, there is also a greater chance of having to navigate tricky relationships with some senior, high-caliber folks.

In this episode of the Manager Track Podcast, Ramona explores this particular challenge. She emphasizes the importance of self-awareness and analyzing the narratives we entertain in our minds, particularly any preconceived notions and interpretations that can exacerbate potential relationship issues.

Ramona also shares practical tips for navigating difficult dynamics so you know how to set boundaries, maintain professionalism, and foster healthy work relationships.

If you’ve been dealing with a tricky relationship at work or want to prepare for such inevitable challenges, this episode is a must-listen.

Watch it on YouTube here.

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Episode 212 Transcript:

0:00:00 Ramona Shaw: This episode is on tricky relationships at work, and we wish it wasn’t so, but most of us are dealing with tricky relationships in the workplace. And in this episode, I’ll share more about how to navigate such situations.

0:00:13 Ramona Shaw: Here’s the how do you successfully transition into your first official leadership role? Build the confidence and competence to lead your team successfully and establish yourself as a respected and trusted leader across the organization? That’s the question, and this show provides the answers. Welcome to The Manager Track podcast. I’m your host, Ramona Shaw, and I’m on a mission to create workplaces where work is not seen as a source of stress and dread, but as a source of contribution, connection, and fulfillment.

0:00:41 Ramona Shaw: This transition starts with developing a new generation of leaders who know how to lead.

0:00:46 Ramona Shaw: So everyone wins and grows.

0:00:49 Ramona Shaw: In this show, you learn how to think, communicate, and act. Ask the confident and competent leader.

0:00:54 Ramona Shaw: You know who you can be. Welcome to this episode of The Manager Track podcast. We looked at our download statistics from last year to see what kind of topics seem to resonate the most based on the number of downloads that they had. And one of the things that I found really interesting was that the most often listened to podcast episodes, two or even three of them had to do with, like, difficult people, difficult relationships, conflict at work.

0:01:23 Ramona Shaw: So this definitely seems to be a topic that’s top of mind or challenging for many of you listeners of the podcast or viewers on YouTube. And so I decided to do a new episode on tricky relationships at work. And I hope that this perspective that I’m gonna take here will be beneficial to you and it will help you navigate such situations. Now, me sharing more about the statistics, well, hopefully for those of you who are navigating maturity, relationships give you a bit of comfort knowing that you’re not the only one, and in fact, what kind of common sense. But I see day to day in my work is that the further up that you go in your career, the higher the chances that you will work with some, let’s call it a range of different personalities.

0:02:12 Ramona Shaw: People who climb the ladders often have strong personalities. They have strong opinions, they often have thick skin, they have some rough edges, and that’s what makes them good and effective. But when you put a bunch of people like that on a team, there are always dynamics that are not as smooth as others. And I find that these dynamics get a little rougher and more challenging the further up that you go and the sort of more senior that team is, which I hope is not just bad news, because, yes, it’s inevitable we will in the workplace have tricky relationships.

0:02:49 Ramona Shaw: That’s part of being a human. But also it’s a bit of good news in a sense that this is normal. And it’s important for every single person as we grow as human beings and as we grow in our careers, to get better at dealing with it and to figure out how to navigate difficult personalities and how to stand our grounds, and also to recognize what kind of vulnerabilities they bring out in us or what kind of aspects of us does this other person really trigger. And that self awareness is all part of the growth journey.

0:03:23 Ramona Shaw: Now, with that said, there are relationships that are not healthy. And when you notice over time that you’ve tried to do all the things that we talk about here in a few minutes, you have sought help, you have engaged in conversations with people, you’ve talked about that elephant in the room, you’ve addressed it. You’ve learned about conflict resolution and applied what you learned, and you sense that this is not getting any better. In fact, it might be getting worse.

0:03:57 Ramona Shaw: And that not only are you dealing with that relationship, that’s probably hard, and it’s impacting your ability to execute well, at least in aspects of your work. But also, if you notice that your level of confidence is starting to erode, that is a red flag to say, hold on a second, what am I doing here? And should I be doing this? I know that a lot of people who have developed this perseverance in them and this, like, sense of grit, they are willing to stay in such relationship dynamics way longer than they should, and they think that they can persevere through it.

0:04:39 Ramona Shaw: But if it starts to erode your confidence, pause. And I’m not saying necessarily leave because I couldn’t, because I don’t know your situation, but it’s worth a pause and get an external perspective on it. A mentor, your trust, a leadership coach, someone else that helps you think through the situation and then helps you make a decision that’s best for you. Too often I hear from people who have stayed in such situations for way too long, confidence level erodes. Ultimately they still leave or they’re being let go.

0:05:10 Ramona Shaw: And then it takes a very long time to rebuild their confidence back to the level that it was before, and that is not worth it. So again, use your own confidence level as a way to measure how you’re holding up in this situation. Okay, that said upfront, and I think it’s really important to emphasize this because I’m going to talk about how you can manage yourself and take ownership for tricky situations.

0:05:35 Ramona Shaw: And I do all this knowing that you are not responsible for someone else and that sometimes getting yourself out of it is the right thing to do. But while you’re still in that messy middle and you’re trying to grow from this experience or from the tricky relationships that you have, here are a few thoughts to consider. One is, what is it that you think of them, and how are those thoughts impacting you in this dynamic, and what do you think of yourself in relation to this dynamic?

0:06:08 Ramona Shaw: So let’s talk about the first one. What do you think of them? And if right now it’s a bit of like a blur in your head and you have a lot of different thoughts, I highly recommend taking a blank sheet of paper or open a new document and just type down all of it. Like, let it all out and just dump all your thoughts unfiltered. Like, no one will ever read this, but write down all the things you think about that person and then know that all this stuff, which is likely pretty negative, all that stuff that you think is pre informing the way that you perceive the other person’s behaviors. So the way that you think about a person directly impacts how you perceive them in the real world.

0:06:52 Ramona Shaw: So, for example, if your best friend, your friend that you love the most would tell you a white lie, let’s say they would give you reasons why they can’t show up to a party on Sunday, and it’s actually just that they don’t want to come, but they tell you kat is sick, or whatever that may be, and you think your best friend did that. It’s likely that you would say, that’s a bummer, but I kind of get it. I’ve done this myself, too. Like, I know that sometimes it’s easy to pull up a white light than to say the truth because we worry about hurting each other.

0:07:25 Ramona Shaw: I don’t like it, but I’ve done it, too, and I get why they would do that. And now think about the person you don’t like or the person you have a tricky relationship with, and that person would do the exact same thing. You’re organizing an event at work and they don’t show up, and they give you some kind of white lie of why they can’t. And you know it’s a white lie. It’s. Chances are high that the way that you interpret this person’s behavior would be very different. It’d be very likely that you wouldn’t think, oh, I get it. Like, they probably didn’t want to hurt my feelings and were uncomfortable and I’ve done this too.

0:08:06 Ramona Shaw: No, you probably think it’s very rude, disrespectful. They think you’re stupid and you wouldn’t realize, or that they try to make a point by not showing up. I don’t know what it would be in your head, but it’s likely not the same types of thoughts as you. You had in the first scenario. This is because of the context that we’re holding in our head about the other person. At a workshop I once went to, they said, I’m always already listening. Meaning, like, I’m already thinking ahead before I even hear the other person.

0:08:36 Ramona Shaw: Because of all this chatter and because of all this information we already hold in our heads, and that’s natural. That’s how we detect patterns, that’s how we navigate the world. It’s normal. But it’s important for you to know, when you think the other person doesn’t like me, or the other person disrespects me, the other person doesn’t think I’m capable in my job. The other person is discriminating against me.

0:09:01 Ramona Shaw: And that’s what you think. It’s very likely that you don’t show up as your best anymore in that relationship. If I think someone else isn’t like me, if I don’t manage my thoughts, likely that I will conclude that I don’t like them either. If I think that they disrespect me, I think that they’re arrogant. There’s a lot of things that I add to it when I observe a behavior, and then me thinking about them in a more negative way creates this downward spiral where there is something that happened, a second thing that happened, and I start to formulate these negative thoughts, and then with this negative thoughts, almost like having blurry glasses on or, you know, fucked up glasses. Everything that they do from then on after is also negative. It’s also. Everything becomes blurry, and it’s a downward spiral, and we can’t really resolve and reconcile with this person unless we drop all this noise and all this conflicts in our head and we give this person a new chance, or we recognize I have all these preformed opinions about them, and maybe I’m wrong.

0:10:09 Ramona Shaw: Like, maybe they’re actually trying to show up as the best that they can in any given moment, even if that’s not what I think is their best, and even if I don’t like it. But they likely woke up in the morning trying to do well, and I don’t know what they have against me or why they do what they do, but can I feel some compassion for them having a hard time? Can I have some compassion or some empathy for them? Just trying their best? Maybe they have stressors that I’m not aware of.

0:10:37 Ramona Shaw: Maybe they have a personality type. They do things and say things that I think is really rude, but they don’t think it’s rude. That’s normal way of communicating to them. Can I give them some grace to drop some of this context? So that’s the first part of this. What do I think of them, and how can I clean up my own thoughts? To have a more neutral. We don’t need to make it all la la land here, but to have a more neutral perspective when I evaluate future behaviors.

0:11:08 Ramona Shaw: Right. So to get yourself out of the downward spiral, you gotta wipe some stuff clean to be able to neutrally assess what they’re doing going forward.

0:11:18 C: Transitioning from being an individual contributor and IC into your first leadership role is one of the biggest transitions that you’ll make in your career, because the things that made you successful as an IC will not be the same things that will make you successful as a leader, and especially in a new role. When all eyes are on you, when you know your boss wants you to succeed and is watching closely, your peers are having an eye on you, your team members are keen to figure out how to work with you and whether or not they can trust you during this time. By the way, whether or not you’re a first time manager or you’ve led teams in the past, but you’re in a new role as a new manager.

0:12:00 Ramona Shaw: To the team, or even to the.

0:12:01 C: Business, this is a time in which you don’t want to wing it. Go into such a situation with a plan and with specific tools that will help you build trust and gain the respect of your coworkers. In our new manager toolkit, we’ll give you guides, tools, checklists, and lots of things that are important for any new manager to get. Keep in mind, head on over to arkova.org free toolkits to grab your copy. You can also find that link in.

0:12:29 Ramona Shaw: The show notes or the captions.

0:12:30 C: I’ll see you over there.

0:12:32 Ramona Shaw: The second aspect here that we need to look at and clean up for ourselves in tricky situations at work is to identify what we think of ourselves in that context of this relationship. So last night I was watching Netflix’s Roast of Tom Brady, and, you know, Kevin Hart and other stand up comedians were up there, and they were roasting Tom Brady, and they were roasting a bunch of other people and some of the jokes, some of the comments that were made were pretty harsh about how people looked people’s body shapes, about people’s intelligence.

0:13:08 Ramona Shaw: It got pretty nasty. And it’s interesting when you think about someone roasting you that way and getting really personal with their attacks, then the way that you can laugh about it is if you are completely secure about this. I don’t know how Kevin Hart feels about his height, but if Kevin Hart can laugh and genuinely laugh about someone else making a joke about his height, for example, and by the way, that was not one of those tough jokes, he’s probably secure. He’s like, yeah, I’m short, and I wish I was taller. I don’t know, but I’m fine with it. That’s just the way I am. And I don’t think about it ever.

0:13:44 Ramona Shaw: Fine. I don’t think it’s a problem. Everyone can see that I’m short. So what? But if he’s really insecure about his height and someone now throws a choke at him about his height, if you can empathize here for a second and try this out, it’s likely that he would feel, and he might pretend laugh in a moment right in front of camera, but internally he would feel like, oh, my gosh, that was so mean. Yeah. Is that true? Do I really look that way? Do I really sound that way?

0:14:13 Ramona Shaw: And we’re really dumb that way or whatever it may be, when we have these insecurities inside of us and someone else says something or does something that directly confronts us with the insecurity we really feel it. We can start get defensive. We can start to get really angry about it. That is when we make judgments about someone else’s behavior. But when we’re good with it, it’s just not a big deal.

0:14:42 Ramona Shaw: Often with my clients, I say, if I tell you I hate your blue hair, would you be offended? And they’re like, no, because I don’t have blue hair, right. It’s like, weird thing for Ramona to say, but it just goes in one ear and out the other ear. You think it’s a me problem. You don’t think it’s a you problem? If I tell you you have blue hair, you think something is wrong with me, not with you. But if I tell you something that you’re unsure about and you not like, am I really good enough for this role?

0:15:10 Ramona Shaw: Am I really smart enough? Do I deserve to seat at the table? Do I really know what I’m doing? And you have doubts, and then someone is calling that out. Or someone is questioning you and you notice, you get triggered by that and you get emotional about it. That’s likely because someone is pointing that out and you doubt this yourself. And so if we can take a step back and recognize, yeah, this is why. And maybe there’s some truth to this.

0:15:38 Ramona Shaw: Maybe that’s right. Yeah, sometimes I’m probably not ready for this role or, yeah, I’ve actually won this, too. Am I ready for this role? And here’s what I’m going to do about it. Or here’s how I’m going to approach that. You don’t actually have to say this out loud, but internally, the way that you start to consciously and intentionally think about what was said and how you’re addressing your insecurities, that is what matters here.

0:16:02 Ramona Shaw: And so as you level up and you start to deal with people who have rough edges, we have to develop a stronger skin. And it doesn’t mean I have to build up a shield, but it means I have to recognize what is about me and my insecurities and what is about them. And when it’s about my insecurities, it just means I have to strengthen my own sense of confidence. They’re just saying something, but I’m getting defensive or I react to it because of what I make it mean about myself and that’s my work to do, has nothing to do with the other person. So don’t project it on the other person. Don’t create tricky relationships with the other person.

0:16:43 Ramona Shaw: Although maybe it was disrespectful or rude of them to say, but that’s their problem. That’s not yours. Yours is to recognize what’s going on within you and then work on that. That is your role. The other person is sort of more of like a teacher presenting it to you, and we can look at that as an opportunity. So when we develop this sense of awareness and then we take ownership of our own thoughts and our own interpretations, then we have an opportunity to change.

0:17:13 Ramona Shaw: We don’t have to change. I’m not saying change your thoughts, change your interpretation if you don’t want to, but if you want to change the relationship that you have and you have a tricky relationship and you think, this sucks my energy, this is making me ineffective in certain areas of my work, this is training, this is stressful and you want to do the work. Yeah. Own your own thoughts, own the interpretations that you have and you can change them. No one else can.

0:17:40 Ramona Shaw: You can, again, dump all the thoughts on paper like you’re doing some decluttering. You’re taking all the different clothes out of your shelves or all the things out of your kitchen, and then you’re rearranging it and you’re only putting back in the things that you want to cultivate thinking you’re only putting in the clothes that you want to keep and everything else chunk, let that go. So clean up your own ways of thinking that you can say, this person is erratic in such and such situations, or this person was a bit unpredictable.

0:18:12 Ramona Shaw: I want to pay attention to that and I want to make sure I understand. When they’re erratic in their behaviors or they make rash or rude comments, it’s about them. Like, can I feel some compassion for them? Maybe having a hard time being really stressed, not taking that on as mine. But in order to do this again, you have to first be aware of what’s going on internally, how you think about yourself and how you think about the other person.

0:18:38 Ramona Shaw: Then you have to take ownership that these are your thoughts. They’re in your brain. They’re your thoughts, your interpretations. If you think it’s someone else’s fault that you think this way, you can’t, like, own it and clean it up because you think someone else owns them. So you have to own them then to be able to clean it up if you like. And again, you don’t have to, but if you think it’d be useful for you to do, then do so.

0:19:02 Ramona Shaw: So that’s a really big part of navigating tricky relationships at work is your internal work. Now, when we look at the external aspect of this, there are two suggestions that I have. One is to know what kind of boundaries or when to set boundaries. Boundaries aren’t there to control other people. The people that you work with are all adults. They can do whatever they want to do. Boundaries are things that you put in place where you say, if you do this, then I will do that.

0:19:33 Ramona Shaw: So you’re not telling someone what they can and cannot do, but you’re saying you can do whatever you want, and if you do this, then I’m going to do that. So that’s a boundary. I’m going to leave the meeting. I am going to not be part of that. I am going to not engage in this kind of email conversations. That’s what would be a boundary. So what are boundaries that you need to constitute and set in place?

0:19:56 Ramona Shaw: That would be one of the external aspects of navigating tricky relationships at work. And then the second aspect is to maintain professionalism and to be mindful with when and how you address that emotional part. Right, that’s coming up for you. So remaining professional means that even with that person, you’re not losing it, you are not becoming disrespectful, you’re not disengaging. That would jeopardize your ability to execute well.

0:20:25 Ramona Shaw: You’re staying professional, sort of that grounded, calm, composed person, even if internally it doesn’t feel that way, but externally you still show up professionally. That will make it a lot more likely that you can resolve the conflict or that it leads to a better relationship than if you’re showing up with those emotions sort of in the bag next to you and they’re influencing your decisions, your behaviors, the things that you say to yourself, to others, to colleagues, how you vent or complain about the behaviors.

0:20:58 Ramona Shaw: Now, when I say complain, of course there are scenarios where you do have to make an official complaint or you have to ask for guidance, but be really mindful how and when you bring up emotions. That’s the external aspect. When I say stay professional and be mindful on when and how you bring in emotions so it doesn’t impact you negatively, where down the road you’re like, ah, I shouldn’t have done that, shouldn’t have said that. Or now they have a certain perception of me or I’m actually trying to resolve a conflict, but I put them in a bad light with my peer and now I’m this awkward situation that is where it gets ineffective.

0:21:34 Ramona Shaw: You still have to obviously deal with your emotions and process them and not just try to pretend like you don’t have any emotions. That doesn’t work. We can’t just bottle it up, but we can remain professional, deal with our emotions on our own terms and in the environments where this feels like a safe space and the right place to do so. That is what I wanted to share with you in this episode around managing tricky relationships at work.

0:22:02 Ramona Shaw: I wished and I know it would be a lot easier to say it’s the other person’s fault, and here’s how you’re going to call out the other person, and here’s how you’re going to make this other person change. That would be fabulous if we could do all that, but that doesn’t work. We just can’t. And it’s inevitable that we run into people who do things we don’t want them to do and we can tell them that we don’t want them to do it and they’re still going to do it.

0:22:28 Ramona Shaw: And that is when we run into tricky relationships and the best chance of building the muscles to be able to sort of have what we’d call a thicker skin down the road or be able to navigate it better. But also for it to not stress you out so much now, or to drain your energy or just feel emotionally heavy is for you to do the inner work that we talked about with understanding what you think about them and how you think about yourself in context of that relationship, and to make sure you manage yourself with your boundaries and your professionalism to the outside world.

0:23:07 Ramona Shaw: If you have questions, or if this is something that you’d like to address in a coaching conversation, check out the links below. Even if it’s a one off coaching call to talk about a very specific scenario, that’s something that I on our team offer, so reach out so we can support you through this. I know this can be hard, and especially if you think about making a decision on whether to completely disengage and move away from such a relationship.

0:23:31 Ramona Shaw: If it’s, you know, that escalated, those are tough decisions to make. So make sure you have a support system and people who can help you make those decisions. That is what we’ve got for this podcast. I hope you found this valuable. If you have colleagues, friends or team members who are going through or dealing with tricky situations at work and you found this podcast episode helpful, please share it along so that they can hear this too. Thanks so much and I’ll see you in our next episode.

0:23:54 Ramona Shaw: Ciao Ciao.

0:23:57 Ramona Shaw: If you enjoyed this episode, then check out two other awesome resources to help you become a leader people love to work with. This includes my best selling book, the confident, incompetent new manager, which you can find on Amazon or@ramonashaw.com book, and a free training on how to successfully lead as a new manager. You can check it out@ramonashaw.com masterclass these resources and a couple more you’ll find.

0:24:23 Ramona Shaw: In the show notes down below.


  1. How do you perceive and interpret your colleagues’ actions and behaviors? Are there any assumptions or biases you hold that could be negatively impacting your workplace relationships? How can you adjust your perspective to foster a more positive interaction?
  2. What specific boundaries do you need to establish or reinforce to maintain healthy and respectful work relationships? How can you effectively communicate these boundaries to your colleagues to ensure mutual understanding and respect?
  3. What steps can you take to improve your self-awareness and better understand your own thoughts and feelings about your colleagues? How can this inner work help you manage your reactions and interactions more effectively?


  • Download the New Manager Toolkit here
  • Learn how to turn your 1-on-1 meetings from time wasters, awkward moments, status updates, or non-existent into your most important and valuable meeting with your directs all week. Access the course and resources here: ramonashaw.com/11
  • Have a question or topic you’d like Ramona to address on a future episode? Fill out this form to submit it for her review: https://ramonashaw.com/ama



Learn more about our leadership development programs, coaching, and workshops at archova.org.

Grab your copy of Ramona’s best-selling book ‘The Confident & Competent New Manager: How to Rapidly Rise to Success in Your First Leadership Role’: amzn.to/3TuOdcP

If this episode inspired you in some way, take a screenshot of you listening on your device and post it to your Instagram Stories, and tag me @ramona.shaw.leadership or DM me on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/ramona-shaw

Are you in your first manager role and don’t want to mess it up? Watch our FREE Masterclass and discover the 4 shifts to become a leader people love to work for: www.archova.org/masterclass

Don’t forget to invest time each week to increase your self-awareness, celebrate your wins, and learn from your mistakes. Your career grows only to the extent that you grow. Grab your Career Journal with leadership exercises and weekly reflections here: ramonashaw.com/shop

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