7 factors holding back your work relationships

Although it’s easy to see the benefits of relationships, there are a number of factors that get in the way. Some people find it difficult to be sociable, whether due to their personality type or previous experiences.

As with all challenges, it helps to understand the barriers before looking at how to overcome them. Here are some common challenges that many people face and some recommendations on how to overcome them:

  • Introversion: if you’re an introvert or have been allocated (or even put yourself) in the ‘shy’ box, it’s not always easy to come out of your shell. Whereas people who are more extroverted find it easier to form light, easy connections, those on the introverted end of the spectrum are happier forming deeper relationships. To be truly successful you need to be able to be flexible and do both – if you think of it like a conversational pond, you need to know how to stay shallow and deep dive as required – which takes practice but can be achieved.


  • Comfort zone: building authentic relationships requires us to be open, honest and vulnerable; to let down our guard and ask for help when we need it. This level of trust is not in everyone’s comfort zone. Forming good relationships means being brave and being prepared to make the first move, initiating contact. This means being prepared for knockbacks, for your invitation to connect not be reciprocated, or for relationships to not go how you’d planned them to. On the upside, relationships that are forged through this level of honesty are unshakeable.

  • Childhood experiences: these can go a long way to influencing our ability to form fruitful relationships. We may get powerful messages from an early age that people can’t be trusted – they can be dangerous, they break promises or let us down – and conclude, subconsciously or not, that we’re safer and better off alone.


    If this is the case, when we find ourselves in new situations where we don’t know the territory, we retreat into our cave and become quieter, less communicative. People falsely mistake this for aloofness, coldness or arrogance, and respond by leaving us alone, making it even more difficult for us to form relationships. Which makes our sense of isolation self-perpetuating. To move beyond this, try not to allow past experiences to cloud new relationships and remember that everyone is different and deserves to be viewed in their unique way.


  • Queen Bee Syndrome: the grim truth is that some women can be really poisonous to one another: they can be super competitive, territorial and behave jealously. At its worst, this can manifest as Queen Bee Syndrome, a term first coined by Staines, Jayaratne and Tavris in 1973, describing a woman in a position of authority who views or treats subordinates more critically if they are female. The term’s meaning has since been widened to encompass female colleagues who are intentionally obstructive and snide towards other female colleagues.


    Although most of us have been on the receiving end of this, some doubt its existence. Sheryl Sandberg observed that, “Women aren’t any meaner to women than men are to one another. Women are just expected to be nicer.” And Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist: Essays, urges us to: “Abandon the cultural myth that all female friendships must be bitchy, toxic, or competitive. This myth is like heels and purses — pretty but designed to SLOW women down.”


  • Competitiveness: another barrier is competitiveness, where we compare ourselves to others – usually unfavourably – and begin to see them as a threat. Although competition can be healthy between teams, it can often be detrimental between individuals. As we look over our shoulder at how other people are doing, we can come across as self-centred, insecure and petty-minded, and so lose focus on our own purpose or the job in hand. Instead of being jealous of their success, imagining what it will be like when you reach their level yourself, and how you will shine in your own way.


  • Cliques: many of us have experienced the prickly sensation of being deliberately excluded from a female group. Cliques are often difficult to break into, as people feel threatened by a new kid on the block and so resist their advances. Alternatively, the new kid may get chosen over everyone else by a key player in the group, leaving everyone else feeling marginalised. Neither scenario fosters good relationships. To deal with this, either avoid cliques altogether or, if you’re part of a close-knit group, make sure you actively invite other people in, thereby encouraging people to move from insular thinking to a more welcoming outlook.


  • Time: relationships also require time. Women especially, with multiple priorities, spend their time rushing to get everything done, and don’t necessarily make time for those coffees, one to ones, lunches and drinks after work that nurture relationships. It’s very easy to be stuck behind your desk, being a diligent keyboard warrior and getting loads done, but not talking to people or seeking out new relationships. To make the most of the time you have, use the power of social media and prioritise getting to know people who you are drawn to as well as those who will have the greatest baring on your success.


Unfortunately, failure to build relationships can be the difference between unleashing your potential or not. Not making time to meet new people can mean we don’t get to hear about brilliant opportunities, and we all know how much we hate FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). So it’s important to prioritise relationships and learn how to do so effectively so that you can make them work for you, in a way that will benefit you both.

Antoinette Dale Henderson is a women’s leadership expert, keynote speaker and a finalist at the Business Book Awards as the author of Power Up: The smart woman’s guide to unleashing her potential. To find out more go to: https://gravitasprogramme.com/power-up/