Mind Matters with Kyle MacDonald: Workplace relationships are complicated


Q: I am very attracted to a work colleague but I know she doesn’t date workmates, which I agree is a good rule. What should I do?

A: It is a good rule, and even more so in the modern world. Relationships at work can cause all sorts of problems – and most of the “rules” are there for everyone’s protection. On the other hand, this is how people meet.

When we think about workplace relationships we have to understand the role that power plays in the workplace. Even the most healthy and uncomplicated relationships between people in different roles can cause problems because of how things can be seen – promotions, pay rises, extra responsibilities – all these need to be managed.

And, of course, sometimes it can be hard to know whether saying no to an advance from a colleague – or even more problematically a senior – may cause problems down the line. Let’s be crystal clear, it shouldn’t, and if it does it likely constitutes sexual harassment, but you can certainly understand why it may be easier to take the whole question off the table altogether.

But, of course, there is one thing you can do. If there aren’t any seniority or power differences, and you’re pretty sure they feel the same way, you could have a straightforward conversation. Tell them how you feel, and that you understand their rule, but that you want to see if there is any way of working it out, together.

Keep it light, be prepared for no, and make it clear that if the answer is no it won’t be an issue and you will move on – and mean it.

But if there is a possibility, and you do really like her and the feeling is mutual, then call me an old romantic, but love is more important than a job.

Q: I’m really demotivated and tired all the time. The GP says there’s nothing wrong physically and that I might be depressed. How can I tell?

A: Without meeting you all I can say is, you might be. But let’s not jump to that conclusion. You could just be tired or in need of a break.

Generally, we are getting better at responding to depression, but at times we can over-respond. Many of the things we tend to now talk about as “depression” aren’t. That’s not to say what we might call depression isn’t real distress of some kind and in need of a very real response.

But in contrast, depression is a debilitating mental illness that leaves us unable to function in one or more areas of our lives.

I’d start by asking yourself if you have had enough time off work or have you been working longer hours?

Because burnout can look like depression but does require a different response. Burnout may require a break, or more radically a change of job. It may need us to balance our life in a different way.

Q: I don’t feel close to my partner anymore, I’ve tried asking them if they could do some things to work on our relationship but they’ve refused. What can I do, I don’t want to leave.

A: There is a very simple rule in long-term relationships: give what you want back. It’s completely normal to be very clear about what your partner may need to do differently, we can always see others behaviour more clearly.

But any couple’s therapist will tell you every couple in trouble starts from a place of blaming the other for the problems, and the first task is to find ways to take responsibility for your own part.

Not because you’re wrong, but because that’s the only bit you can control.

So start with generosity – give to your partner what you want to receive. Be kind, validating, ask and listen, take an interest.

And don’t forget the value of the little things, the small acts of generosity. Because long-term relationships are just a collection of small things. And small acts of kindness have the potential to completely change the direction of a relationship.

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