Take 5: How to Nurture Your Work Relationships
Skip to content
Podcast | Insight Unpacked Season 1: Extraordinary Brands and How to Build Them
Careers Feb 7, 2017

Take 5: How to Nurture Your Work Relationships

Ways to improve negotiations and better manage conflict at the office.

Relationships at work must be nurtured, too.

Yevgenia Nayberg

When romance is in the air, by all means, treat your date to a lovely night on the town. But don’t forget that your relationships with colleagues need to be nurtured as well.

Here are five pieces of advice from Kellogg School faculty members on improving your negotiation skills and managing conflict at work.

Learn more about Kellogg’s executive education program on negotiation strategies with Jeanne Brett here.

1. Don’t Let Culture Get in the Way

One thing to ask yourself when you are faced with conflict at work is whether the issue is actually cultural, says Jeanne Brett, a professor of management and organizations at Kellogg.

Everything from differences in how decisions are made to what “yes” means can come into play. Being able to take what may seem like a problem-employee issue and reframe it as cultural can be powerful.

“I see that it’s not just you trying to be difficult,” Brett says of the change in perspective. “It’s rather you acting as you normally would, given your culture. So if you can label it as ‘cultural,’ then you can begin to say, ‘Okay, now I understand where they’re coming from, let’s see how I can deal with it.’”

Brett’s advice is to try to be “culturally metacognitive”—and try to hire people who are, as well. This type of individual has his or her own multicultural experience and is likely to look at confusing or problematic behavior and wonder if the underlying problem is actually cultural.

2. See Your Arguments Through Someone Else’s Eyes

But not all workplace conflicts are cultural. One way to diffuse other tensions is to look at an argument from a neutral, outside perspective, according to Eli Finkel, a professor of management and organizations at Kellogg and a professor of psychology at Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences.

In one study Finkel surveyed 120 romantic couples, asking them every four months to describe their most significant fight during that time. They also rated various parts of their relationships—satisfaction, love, intimacy, commitment, etc. After a year, the results reflected that most couples experience less satisfaction with their relationship over time.

In the second year of the study, however, half the couples received instructions to do an additional roughly seven-minute exercise every four months. They described their biggest conflict through the eyes of a third party, identified obstacles, and described how the couple might overcome them. That’s when the trend changed. These couples reported more satisfaction with their relationships, not less.

Though the couples that completed the extra task experienced just as much conflict, “the intervention not only made people happier in their marriages, it made them happier with their lives in general. If workforce interventions have similar results, that’s an astounding return on a 21-minute annual investment,” Finkel says.

3. Improve Your Negotiations

Negotiation is a huge part of any business relationship. But how do you get what you want without giving up something else that is important to you?

In a new book written with Stanford professor Margaret Neale, Thomas Lys, a professor emeritus of accounting information and management at Kellogg, has identified a number of ways to do just that. Two tips: mitigate your emotional response by trying to understand why the person across the table is behaving the way he is; and determine whether your preferences are actually conflicting.

Learn more about Kellogg’s executive education program on building & leading high impact teams with Leigh Thompson here.

4. No Really, Negotiate

Generally, women are less willing to negotiate, according to Leigh Thompson, a professor of management and organizations at Kellogg. “They’re worried about the backlash,” she says.

And unfortunately, their worries are not without reason. But Thompson advises that women not be deterred and, in particular, that they embrace more ambiguous negotiation situations, such as the chance to redefine their role in an organization.

“One of my rules is never to ask, ‘Is this negotiable?’ because that’s a yes or no question. It’s easy for people to say, ‘No, it’s not. Next question.’”

5. Turn the Lights Down Low

According to research by Aparna Labroo, a professor of marketing at the Kellogg School, bright light can make us a little hot under the collar. This is true physically—we feel warmer in a brightly lit room than in a dimmer one at the same temperature—as well as emotionally.

In one study, participants were shown a script for a commercial that featured a man honking at someone while driving, cursing at someone in a parking lot, and rushing past a pregnant woman. Participants viewed the man’s behavior as more aggressive when the lights in the room in which they were sitting were bright.

Bright light also amplifies positive reactions—female models were rated as more attractive to participants sitting in a brightly lit room than in a dimly lit one.

A light’s brightness “changes the way we perceive others,” Labroo says, and “could even make a difference in negotiations.”

So if you want to sway others with an impassioned plea, consider a place flooded with light. If you want cooler heads to prevail, however, hit the dimmer switch.

Bonus Fact: A Rose By Any Other Name … Probably Went Through Miami Airport

So you have resolved your conflicts, found job satisfaction, and negotiated for what you want. Congratulations! Now here is some trivia to impress your coworkers: That bouquet of roses on the CFO’s desk? It most likely came through Miami International Airport.

In 2014, 85 percent of all flower imports came through there, according to Marty Lariviere, an operations professor at Kellogg.

Though other airports may want to get in the action, the business requires sophisticated cooling centers, refrigerated trucks, and a team of specialized U.S. Customs inspectors. Miami has all those things—as well as economies of scale.

“It’s going to be hard to take that business away,” Lariviere says.

Featured Faculty

Professor Emeritus of Management & Organizations

Professor of Psychology, Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences; Professor of Management & Organizations

Eric L. Kohler Emeritus Chair in Accounting; Professor Emeritus of Accounting Information & Management

J. Jay Gerber Professor of Dispute Resolution & Organizations; Professor of Management & Organizations; Director of Kellogg Team and Group Research Center; Professor of Psychology, Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences (Courtesy)

Professor of Marketing

John L. and Helen Kellogg Professor of Operations

About the Writer
Susan Cosier is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago, Illinois.
Most Popular This Week
  1. Your Team Doesn’t Need You to Be the Hero
    Too many leaders instinctively try to fix a crisis themselves. A U.S. Army colonel explains how to curb this tendency in yourself and allow your teams to flourish.
    person with red cape trying to put out fire while firefighters stand by.
  2. What Triggers a Career Hot Streak?
    New research reveals a recipe for success.
    Collage of sculptor's work culminating in Artist of the Year recognition
  3. What’s the Secret to Successful Innovation?
    Hint: it’s not the product itself.
    standing woman speaking with man seated on stool
  4. Which Form of Government Is Best?
    Democracies may not outlast dictatorships, but they adapt better.
    Is democracy the best form of government?
  5. How Much Do Campaign Ads Matter?
    Tone is key, according to new research, which found that a change in TV ad strategy could have altered the results of the 2000 presidential election.
    Political advertisements on television next to polling place
  6. What Went Wrong with FTX—and What’s Next for Crypto?
    One key issue will be introducing regulation without strangling innovation, a fintech expert explains.
    stock trader surrounded by computer monitors
  7. How Are Black–White Biracial People Perceived in Terms of Race?
    Understanding the answer—and why black and white Americans may percieve biracial people differently—is increasingly important in a multiracial society.
    How are biracial people perceived in terms of race
  8. Immigrants to the U.S. Create More Jobs than They Take
    A new study finds that immigrants are far more likely to found companies—both large and small—than native-born Americans.
    Immigrant CEO welcomes new hires
  9. How Experts Make Complex Decisions
    By studying 200 million chess moves, researchers shed light on what gives players an advantage—and what trips them up.
    two people playing chess
  10. Yes, Consumers Care if Your Product Is Ethical
    New research shows that morality matters—but it’s in the eye of the beholder.
    woman chooses organic lettuce in grocery
  11. Why Well-Meaning NGOs Sometimes Do More Harm than Good
    Studies of aid groups in Ghana and Uganda show why it’s so important to coordinate with local governments and institutions.
    To succeed, foreign aid and health programs need buy-in and coordination with local partners.
  12. Product Q&A Forums Hold a Lot of Promise. Here’s How to Make Them Work.
    The key to these online communities, where users can ask and answer questions, is how many questions get useful answers.
    man sits at computer reading Q&A forum
  13. What Went Wrong at AIG?
    Unpacking the insurance giant's collapse during the 2008 financial crisis.
    What went wrong during the AIG financial crisis?
  14. When Do Open Borders Make Economic Sense?
    A new study provides a window into the logic behind various immigration policies.
    How immigration affects the economy depends on taxation and worker skills.
  15. What the New Climate Bill Means for the U.S.—and the World
    The Inflation Reduction Act won’t reverse inflation or halt climate change, but it's still a big deal.
    energy bill with solar panels wind turbines and pipelines
  16. Post-War Reconstruction Is a Good Investment
    Ukraine’s European neighbors will need to make a major financial commitment to help rebuild its economy after the war. Fortunately, as the legacy of the post–World War II Marshall Plan shows, investing in Ukraine's future will also serve Europe's own long-term interests.
    two people look out over a city
  17. How Has Marketing Changed over the Past Half-Century?
    Phil Kotler’s groundbreaking textbook came out 55 years ago. Sixteen editions later, he and coauthor Alexander Chernev discuss how big data, social media, and purpose-driven branding are moving the field forward.
    people in 1967 and 2022 react to advertising
  18. The Political Divide in America Goes Beyond Polarization and Tribalism
    These days, political identity functions a lot like religious identity.
    people engage in conflict with swords