Book Review: Peer Power

Peer Power: Transforming Workplace Relationships by Cynthia Clay and Ray Olitt, Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA (2012). 289 + xxix pages, $40.00.

Peer Poweris definitely a powerful book! Every one of us has encountered, at one time or another, difficult or challenging relationships in the workplace. Results of these dysfunction relationships impact our productivity, our job satisfaction, our ability to get work done, and our emotional health. Peer Power offers great strategies that we can implement immediately to make a powerful difference.

The authors open the book describing a survey on workplace conflict in which 62% of respondents have left a job, in part, due to a difficult relationship (pg. xvii). You cannot afford to ignore this problem, but what to do?

Strategies for coping with conflict
Cynthia Clay and Ray Olitt detail multiple tools and coping strategies to overcome common workplace conflicts. In Chapters 1 through 3, they provide personal examples of being the difficult person. I think, after reviewing the conflicts graphically illustrated throughout the book, each of us will also recognize ourselves as the "difficult person" and admit to our own contributions as "challenging co-workers."

Four principles guide the reader to improving complicated workplace relationships:

  1. Be real,
  2. Build relationships,
  3. Take responsibility, and
  4. Extend respect.

Meanwhile, the five strategies for improving difficult situations are strongly oriented toward the Thomas-Kilmann model of conflict management. Many oil and gas corporations offer professional development training based on the Thomas-Kilmann model, so chemical engineers may already be familiar with Peer Power's strategies to transform relationships.

Characteristics of challenging coworkers

Chapters 4 through 13 describe specific characteristics of challenging coworkers, so you can reference Peer Power like an encyclopedia, turning to the chapter that will give you the most guidance for the situation in which you find yourself today. Each chapter narrates an experience from the authors' own careers and then lists "clues" to help you identify the patterns of destructive behavior in the relationship. Finally, the best principles to apply in each situation are described to help improve the relationship quickly, along with one or more of the Thomas-Kilmann conflict management strategies to move the relationship beyond conflict. At the end of each chapter, the authors also provide an extraordinarily helpful toolkit - a sample dialogue and a worksheet to help you plan improvements in a difficult workplace relationship.

In summary, Chapter 14 describes the blessing and curses of technology, while Appendix 1 allows you to work through a personal self assessment regarding workplace behaviors and attitudes. The latter tool is informative, yet might be painful for some to discover that their own behaviors are enabling destructive workplace relationships.

I found this book to be refreshing since the authors confessed up front to their own conflicts. We engineers, who are famously indicted as poor communicators, can stand to learn a great deal about improving workplace relationships from Peer Power. I encourage my colleagues in chemical engineering to read this book, whether currently in a difficult workplace situation or not. Applying the four principles can certainly enhance our communications and relationships immediately.

See the authors' website at Peer Power: Transforming Workplace Relationships for more information about this book.

Where do workplace relationships rank among your professional challenges?


ehorahan's picture

In my own experience, the same workplace can change based on teams or managers as you move through the organization. The situations and the way people interact with each other is different in each group. I think this book will be on my Christmas list!