How to Be a Great Coworker: Playing Nice in the Workplace

Jul 19, 2019
9 min read

Having an awesome team at your place of work can really make a difference when it comes to productivity, innovation, and, ultimately, success. Similarly, having a cohort of employees unable to work together or agree can destroy a workplace and make it unbearable!

In healthcare, it is particularly important that a team works well together in order to provide the best patient care and facilitate optimal treatment outcomes. This article will provide insight into the important aspects of coworker relationships and guide you in creating and maintaining your best work team!


Hear out the ideas of others patiently. Be mindful of interrupting a coworker before they finish sharing — no matter how excited you are to share your own idea! Consider the ideas of others or their approaches to a problem thoroughly before dismissing them; even if an idea that someone shares isn’t quite what you were looking for.

Also, keep in mind that some personalities are more extroverted and other folks are more introverted; this impacts a person’s level of comfort communicating in different scenarios. You do not want to discourage future participation or hinder future ideas. You may find a great idea somewhere or with someone you did not expect!

Mind your manners

Be respectful and polite. I should not have to point this out but some people are still missing the memo! Extending a simple “hello” in the morning goes a long way. You are not going to agree with every person every time; however, you still need to be mindful of others feelings (as I imagine you would like them to be of yours). Being polite and treating others, regardless of position, as equals helps to maintain a mature and productive work environment.

Be a team player

Working in healthcare often requires an interdisciplinary team approach which creates a unique situation. Within the group there may be personnel of different skill levels, with different goals, and a variety of areas of expertise. This is ideal for many reasons, the main one obviously being coordination and collaboration of patient care.

That being said, it can be difficult when team members have different goals and concerns, especially when it comes to a care plan. Sometimes this means altering plans or making compromises. Each professional needs to remember that the ultimate goal for a successful team is the well-being of the patient.


You and your coworker may both want the same vacation day or may both want to work on the same project; you need to be able to compromise with others to come up with fair solutions. Brainstorm your negotiables and non-negotiables and pinpoint your main goals and objectives. Know where you would be willing to give a little before the conversation happens.

This means you may not always get what you want (though hopefully sometimes you will), and sometimes you will need to be flexible for the good of the team.

Resolve conflicts maturely

Arguing with coworkers, bad-mouthing others, or displaying passive-aggressive behavior toward coworkers is not the way to go! These behaviors drag out conflicts unnecessarily and often rope others in the process, making the mess even messier. If you have a conflict in the workplace and are unsure what to do, ask for help!

Know who the go-to supervisor is as well as the proper Human Resources protocol for documenting and resolving office issues. If you feel a coworker has done something inappropriate or unethical you don’t have to address that yourself—that is what the human resource team is for! Keep your own valuable time and effort where they belong: focused on your work.

Don’t gossip!

It can be difficult when you really want to vent or a coworker is driving you crazy with frustration. Take a deep breath and walk away. Unloading this onto another coworker is never a good idea. Firstly, the person you vent to is then involved with a conflict they probably shouldn’t be. Secondly, this act diminishes trust and respect among the team members. Lastly, anything that you say can be used against you!

You never know who you will look to for assistance on a project or ask about a job reference, and talking about others unkindly is a sure fire way to burn bridges. If you really feel the need to unload or vent, tell a friend or a significant other, then regroup and come up with a plan to address the issues you are having.

Keep your personal life personal

This means not talking loudly on personal calls (which should be kept to a minimum in the first place), keeping personal texts and emails to a minimum (after you’ve completed your work tasks and/or while you’re on a lunch break), and not talking incessantly about non-work related topics. Your coworkers don’t need to hear the conversations you have with your spouse or the constant ping of your incoming texts from your friends!

If you do need to take an emergency call, speak quietly or politely excuse yourself from the area. Also, consider keeping your phone on silent (or at least vibrate mode). When having personal conversations with coworkers keep things light and don’t overshare anything that would make anyone else uncomfortable or lead them to questioning your abilities or dedication to the job.

Minimize distraction

If a coworker is constantly distracting you from your work by discussing their personal issues, playing music too loudly, clicking their pen too often (I could go on forever with this list) it is your prerogative to let them know, politely and proactively. Discussing personal endeavors for more than a few minutes of small talk is inappropriate at work. Just as you will be considerate in taking personal calls or having personal text conversations, others should be too.

More likely than not, if you feel something or someone is a distraction or is generally disruptive to your workflow, others feel the same way. After all, you are there to perform your job first and foremost, and you can kindly remind the culprit of that. If you feel uncomfortable letting the other person know, seek assistance from you superior.

Respect other people’s time

This includes not being tardy to work, especially if you work in a healthcare setting where others are unable to move forward without you. If you are a provider you should also respect the time of the patients in the waiting room! If patients have a long wait time, the staff hears complaints from the disgruntled patients and on goes the chain of frustration and negativity which can quickly circle back around to staff resenting you.

Respecting the time of others also means being as prompt as possible in returning calls, emails, and other modes of correspondence. Lastly, make sure that meetings stay on topic and run on time so you, and your coworkers, can have a productive meeting and go on to have a productive day outside of it.

Ask for help when you need it

The best relationships develop when people work together and collaborate on projects. If you are overwhelmed, you are better off asking your team members for support than doing a less than stellar job (which can hurt everyone in the long run). If you regularly demonstrate that you’re a productive team member, you’ll easily develop lasting connections and work relationships who you can turn to when you need help. This also extends in the opposite direction—make yourself accessible to your coworkers for advice or guidance in the interest of having a future advocate on your side.

Give credit and thanks

Boost morale by complimenting your coworker on a job well done. We can get so wrapped up in doing our own job that we become over-focused, sometimes even competitive, and forget to acknowledge those around us. Complimenting a coworker’s project or idea shows you are interested in their work but also motivates them to keep working hard and being innovative!

The same goes for coworkers who take time to help you out; don’t forget to give a heartfelt thank you! Whether in person, shooting them an appreciative email, or writing a small thank you note, a gesture of thanks will be sure to secure the person’s help can go a long way to maintain and nurture a relationship.

Quit complaining!

Negativity is toxic to a work environment! When things are tough, try to keep it together. A favorite quote of mine comes to mind “Complaining does not work as a strategy”(1). This spot-on quote is from former Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch. Incessant complaining will get you nowhere, so instead try to search for solutions.

No workplace is perfect. While tension and staff issues will come and go, only coworkers who respect one another will put in the time and effort to overcome obstacles and continue moving forward together. Healthcare teams, in particular, are about setting and reaching goals that are not so much individually based but goals that are in the interest of the group. Collaboration, respect, communication, and focus (just to name a few) are all key components of being a great coworker in a healthcare setting.


  1. Pausch, Randy, and Jeffrey Zaslow. The Last Lecture. New York: Hyperion, 2008.
About Danielle Kalberer, OD, FAAO

Dr. Danielle Kalberer is an optometrist practicing on Long Island, NY. She attended the SUNY College of Optometry, completed residency at the Northport VAMC, is a fellow of the American Academy of Optometry and is Board Certified in Medical Optometry. …

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