How To Get Along With Coworkers (Without Being Fake)

I know a thing or two about how to get along with coworkers.

I’m in my late 30s, and have been working since I was 15. I’ve worked with just about every type of person you can imagine. 

I’ve been a lowly teenage employee at a toy store, with no experience beyond babysitting. 

I’ve been a miserable host at a chain restaurant that I won’t name, but it rhymes with Shmapplebees. 

I worked in marketing agencies for years. 

I’ve had good managers and more than a few toxic bosses. I’ve managed teams of one and teams of ten. 

Some of my colleagues became lifelong friends. Others were so challenging, I get frustration flashbacks when I think about them. 

It would be nice if you could hand-pick your colleagues, but in most jobs, your managers choose who you work with. 

That’s why learning how to get along with coworkers is such a vital skill—the alternative is to have constant conflict at work. 

In this article, I’ve covered the best tips I have for getting along with your colleagues, even the ones who seem impossible.


Disclaimer: The realities of work

Before we dig into the tips, I want to acknowledge a few realities about today’s working world. 

Workers of all ages face a rapidly changing economic landscape. But Gen Z, who are in many cases newcomers to the working world, face unique challenges. 

First, there are all the Gen Z stereotypes that people use to generalize and discriminate against members of the generation. 

There’s rapidly changing technology that makes choosing a career path a challenge. 

And on top of all that, many members of Gen Z are coming into the workforce with expectations and demands that have been a long time coming, especially in America. 

More than any generation before, Gen Z puts a high value their autonomy, mental health, and work-life balance. These expectations have already made a big impact on working culture, and we have Gen Z to thank for that. 

In this article, I’m not telling you to make any compromises on those important issues.

I myself am a freelancer and digital nomad because I craved more freedom and wellness in my work life. I’ve written a full article on how to advocate for yourself at work, because it’s an essential skill. 

That being said, in most cases you can have firm boundaries and expectations with your coworkers and still use tact, strategy, and empathy to communicate them.

I will not be telling you to grin and bear it at work.

Instead, I want to show you how to get along with coworkers as best you can, so you can keep the peace at your job, advance your career, and avoid selling out in the process.


Know your value—and be realistic about it

You and your employer have a symbiotic relationship. You need them to earn income and get by; they need you to get a certain set of tasks done. 

However, this symbiotic relationship won’t always be equal throughout your career. Particularly early on, it may be that you need your job more than they need you. 

I’ll use three examples from my career to show you how this relationship can shift. 

When I worked at a toy store, I was the youngest and most inexperienced employee. It was a boutique store in the best part of downtown, and lots of people wanted to work there.

👆In this case, I needed the store more than they needed me. They could have easily replaced me with someone more experienced, and I would have struggled to find a similar job. 

When I worked at the chain restaurant, they also could have replaced me with a million other people. But I also hated that job, hated that pay, and entry-level jobs in the service industry were a dime a dozen. 

👆 In this case, my employer and I needed each other at about the same amount, which wasn’t very much. 

When I worked as a manager at my last agency, I had a lot of experience that most people in my industry didn’t have. And there were plenty of other agencies that would have hired me. 

👆 In this case, my employer needed me more than I needed them

These imbalances may not feel fair, but they are unfortunately part of how the system works. And because of these imbalances, you will likely need to adjust your behavior along your career journey. 

To go back to my examples: 

At the toy store, I worked hard to always be there on time, pay close attention to training, and go above and beyond where I could. Why? Because if I didn’t, I knew I’d be the first on the chopping block, and I’d lose out on a job I wanted. 

At the restaurant, I had no problem quitting without giving notice. My employer had no problem withholding my last paycheck for weeks. Neither of us had any skin in the game. 

Once I had more leverage later in my career, my behavior changed again. I began to make more demands and draw firmer boundaries. I got to work from home when I wanted, received more frequent raises to keep me on board, and got to hand-pick members of my team. 

In an ideal world, we’d all be in a job where our employer needed us more than them. (This is precisely why unions exist, by the way—collective bargaining power makes it easier to make demands). 

But the reality is, if you plan to work your way up on a relatively traditional career path, you will likely have to compromise some of what you want to last long enough to see the promotions.


Set boundaries—without burning bridges

Even if you’re the youngest person at your job, you still can and should set firm boundaries with your employers. 

I’ve written about setting boundaries with parents before, and many of the rules in that article apply to the workplace.

However, setting boundaries at work requires more tact and grace, especially when you’re new, because upsetting the wrong person could lead to you losing your job or being passed over for a promotion. 

A lot of this comes down to language and tone. If you’ve identified a boundary you need to set, take time to plan how you want to set it, rather than acting in the moment or out of emotion. 

For example, let’s say you have a manager who simply will not respect your working hours. They call you on weekends, text you when you’re on vacation, and expect you to hang around after work when they want something last-minute. 

Obviously, you need to set a boundary with this person. But before you say, “I don’t work after hours, so stop contacting me or I’ll tell your boss,” pause and think carefully about what you say.

When dealing with family or friends, that kind of direct language can be very powerful in demonstrating how serious you are. 

At the workplace, however, that curt language and tone could cause your manager to start looking for your replacement—someone who won’t snap at them.

They might remember this moment when deciding who gets a bonus at the end of the quarter. Or they might start talking about you to other employees, and suddenly you have more enemies at the office than you can count.

I’m not saying any of that is fair, but unfortunately, these kinds of people exist in workplaces big and small. 

The antidote is to be strategic. 

Imagine if, instead of responding in-the-moment with this boundary-violater, you… 

1. Reviewed the employee handbook so you were certain about the rules regarding hours and communication

2. Observed how this manager treated other employees, finding others who are frustrated for the same reasons

3. Planned and rehearsed how to bring this up with your manager firmly but kindly

4. Made a plan for what to do if the conversation didn’t go well 

With that kind of thoughtfulness, you’ll be far better prepared to set a boundary that doesn’t backfire. And if things do go awry, you’ve got a backup plan and identified allies in the office to help you. 


Don’t play office politics—but don’t ignore them

Lots of people see the workplace as an opportunity to manipulate, backstab, cheat, and compete their way to the top. And sometimes, it works. One might argue that it’s impossible to make it to the top without stepping on people on your way up. 

I’m not about to tell you to participate in that mess.

In fact, 90% of the time, I recommend completely ignoring whatever manufactured drama is happening in the workplace. 

However, even if you aren’t deeply invested in the culture of your company, paying attention to some of the office politics happening around you will make it much easier to get along with coworkers. 

Watch closely to see who is playing politics. Who are the people gossiping in the break room? Who always seems to be flustered and frustrated? Are there rivalries you can see from an outside perspective? 

Recognizing things like this can help you figure out who to avoid at the office (more on that later), and identify other coworkers who don’t partake in politics. Make those folks your friends, if that’s something you want in the office, and otherwise, stay out of the drama. 

For tips on how to practice the “light side” of office politics, check out my full guide on managing up and my tips on reading coded language at work.


Communicate openly—but keep your cards close to your chest

Open and honest communication is at the core of every healthy human relationship, including those you make at work. 

Pretty much everything I’ve said so far in this article requires tactful communication. For communication tips, check out my articles about passive listening and how to hold a conversation

But there is another communication skill you can cultivate to make it easier to get along with coworkers: The art of revealing information only at the right time. 

Though you don’t want to lie or omit important information at work (or anywhere else), you don’t need to tell your colleagues and managers everything about you right away.

You don’t have to explain your personal life to anyone at work if you don’t want to, and sometimes it’s best not to.

For example, you might be excited to tell coworkers about your weekend plans, which include a house party.

But if you happen to fall ill or aren’t performing your best on Monday, people who heard you will assume you’re exhausted from the party. This may or may not be true—but if you hadn’t revealed your weekend plans, they’d have no reason to suspect anything. 

This tip also applies to your talents and abilities. It might seem like a good idea to come into a job and talk up your skills, thus showcasing your value to the company. But in some cases, keeping some of your skills undisclosed might better serve you. 

Let’s say you’re a skilled copywriter, and also talented with graphic design. If you’ve been hired to work as a copywriter, but come in talking up your design abilities, there’s a good chance you’ll get graphic design work assigned to you on top of your copywriting duties, without additional compensation. 

Instead, you could keep your graphic design skills up your sleeve. Perhaps there will come a moment when you’re vying for an internal promotion and can use your design abilities to land the role. Or you could use graphic design as a side hustle separate from your day job, to earn extra income. 

In cases like these, keeping some facts about yourself private could serve you well in the long run.


Get along with those you can—practice distant respect with those you can’t

Some people strive to keep their personal and professional lives completely separate—and there’s merit to that. 

But you may end up spending more time with your colleagues than your own family members. Getting along with coworkers will mean you won’t be isolated or frustrated all day at work. 

On top of that, making friends as an adult gets harder and harder as you age; many of my oldest friends were originally my colleagues, and I’m so happy I gave them a chance back when we first met in the office environment. 

Not every colleague will become a friend, and it’s likely that in the course of your career, you’ll have to work closely with people who you would never interact with outside the office. 

In those circumstances, I recommend practicing what I call “distant respect.” Refrain from getting into direct conflict with them or trash-talking them with your favorite colleagues. Instead, find ways to build a buffer, so you don’t have to interact with the difficult people as much. 

There are lots of ways to build these buffers, big and small: 

  • Choose a different desk or area at work to avoid them 
  • Avoid signing up for projects that will require you to work with them 
  • Use headphones to minimize conversation 
  • Ask your manager to help you reduce collaboration 
  • Schedule your work-from-home days or days off to avoid them 
  • Keep any conversation short and work-related

By cutting back on the amount of contact you have with difficult colleagues, you’ll avoid getting sucked into negative coworker relationships, so you can focus on building relationships with colleagues you enjoy.


What to do when getting along with coworkers is impossible

The tips I put in this article will help you get along with coworkers as best you can, when you have no choice over who you’re working with. 

But if you’ve exhausted these strategies to get along with colleagues (without success), perhaps it’s time to consider building a non-traditional career of your own—one that allows you to be more choosey about who you work with. 

If so, here are some resources to tap into next: