26Navigating Ambivalence in Our Professional Relationships

Amy Gallo

How we get work done, especially in an age of extreme uncertainty, depends on the quality of our relationships. You can have the smartest strategy, the most talented people, top‐notch systems, and processes, and you can still fail if the people behind the execution have strained interactions and don't get along. Put simply: our relationships with our colleagues—our bosses, leaders, peers, and direct reports—matter.

When those relationships are strong, they are a source of energy, support, growth, and productivity. But when they fracture, they cause us anguish, frustration, and stress; they undermine our ability to do our jobs. Research by Georgetown professor Christine Porath and her colleagues found that de‐energizing relationships have a four to seven times greater impact on our well‐being than energizing, positive relationships.1

Of course, not all of our work relationships fall neatly into categories of “positive” or “negative.” There are those that we feel unsure or conflicted about. These “ambivalent relationships” are often just as problematic as the unambiguously negative ones.2

When I think about the people I've worked with throughout my career, many of those who stand out as challenging weren't actually difficult all the time. For instance, I had a colleague who I'll call Tara. We were never friends exactly, but we enjoyed chatting at the beginning of meetings and, at social events, she and I often ...

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