How to Make Love-Hate Office Relationships Work


The relationships you have with your work colleagues can be complex. As well as cooperating with you on projects, team members compete with each other for promotions and sales targets. Such relationships are characterised as ‘ambivalent’. Ambivalent relationships are usually marked by conflict and tension, and involve both negative and positive feelings.

Research carried out into working relationships shows that positive relationships have good outcomes and negative relationships have negative ones – pretty much what you’d expect. But what about ambivalent relationships?

Well, it would appear that they have mostly negative, damaging effects. Employees in love-hate relationships with colleagues suffered from a range of physical problems. Their blood pressure was frequently elevated, they were less resistant to stress, suffered a decreased sense of wellness, and showed greater cellular ageing.

However, ambivalent relationships do have a positive side, too. Problem-solving and decision-making skills are enhanced and negotiation becomes more successful. So, a love-hate relationship with a colleague could work well for you if you can balance it properly. You’re more likely to see yourself through someone else’s eyes and to spend time trying to understand more about what the relationship with that person is really all about. Ambivalent relationships can also lead to feelings of uncertainty which can motivate you to work harder in order to reinforce your position within your team.

How to make office love-hate relationships work

Ambivalent office relationships can be made to work if you focus on the positives. Even if the relationship is exasperating, remember that there are still emotional benefits to be had that can be hard to find at work. Begin by sharing a small amount of personal information and building a little bit of trust. You might never go so far as to call a colleague a ‘friend’, but your relationship could reveal some unexpected benefits.


Working with someone who presents you with a degree of competition can be a great motivator. Collaborate on a project and you’ll be surprised at just how much more effort you find yourself putting in. In addition, the time you have to spend working together might even go some way to developing a degree of empathy between you.

Keep your enemies closer

Negative relationships are very toxic. Whilst you might never be on exactly friendly terms with a particularly difficult colleague, work on improving your relationship so that it’s at least ambivalent. Achieve this through getting to know your enemy and focusing on his or her best characteristics, rather than stressing out about the things that annoy you most about them.

Appreciate your social ledger

Try to remember that it’s not just you who harbours feelings of ambivalence towards colleagues. Don’t feel guilty about these feelings; there are probably plenty of work colleagues who feel just the same about you! Appreciate the balance that you’ve achieved in your social ledger at work and learn to live with the less-than-perfect relationships you have.

Navigating relationships at work is never easy, and there are bound to be personality clashes. Love-hate relationships are unavoidable but manageable, and sometimes settling for an ambivalent relationship is the best way to go to achieve a degree of harmony and cooperation. It could just be that the person you thought was your worst enemy could turn out to be your best friend as you modify your behaviours and learn to handle potentially tricky situations. Managing people and demonstrating well-honed persuading and influencing skills always impress employers and look great on your CV!