Successful stories are driven by authentic and interesting characters, so it’s important to craft them carefully. But characters don’t usually exist in a vacuum; throughout the course of your story, they’ll live, work, play, and fight with other cast members. Some of those relationships are positive and supportive, pushing the protagonist to positive growth and helping them achieve their goals. Other relationships do exactly the opposite, derailing your character’s confidence and self-worth or they cause friction and conflict that leads to fallout and disruption. Many relationships hover somewhere in the middle. A balanced story will require a mix of these dynamics.
The purpose of this thesaurus is to encourage you to explore the kinds of relationships that might be good for your story and figure out what each might look like. Think about what a character needs (good and bad), and build a network of connections for him or her that will challenge them, showcase their innermost qualities, and bind readers to their relationship trials and triumphs.
Description: This is one pretty much everyone has had experience with. Whether you work in an office, from home, or a combination of the two, there are people at work that we have to interact with. Think back on your own experiences to help bring this relationship to life for your characters in an authentic and compelling way.
Each relationship is different, depending on the people involved, their history together, their individual personalities, and a host of factors. Below are a wide range of dynamics that can accompany this relationship. Use the ideas that suit your story and work best for your characters to bring about and/or resolve the necessary conflict.
Fostering an environment of cooperation
Recognizing the strengths other people bring to the table
Seeing co-workers as part of the team rather than threats or rivals
Respecting the established workplace hierarchy
Making things easier for others and not more difficult (keeping one’s desk neat, cleaning up after a meal in the break room, providing requested materials on time, etc.)
Respecting personal boundaries
Maintaining an attitude of professionalism
Being tolerant of differences
Sucking up to the boss
Gossiping about co-workers
Selfish behaviors (being late to meetings, not following through with responsibilities, letting someone else do the lion’s share of the work, etc.)
Not engaging with or getting to know others
Telling jokes, using language, or touching a co-worker in a way that makes him or her uncomfortable
Always having to get one’s way or have the last word
Poaching clients or business from a co-worker
Unethical behaviors (stealing supplies, sabotaging a co-worker, making false claims, etc.)
Forming cliques that exclude or ostracize co-workers
Treating co-workers as if they are inferiors instead of equals
Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
Two co-workers vying for the same position or project
One co-worker wanting what’s best for the company while the other is serving only himself
One co-worker wanting to do his best while the other wants to do the minimum
Co-workers who have different visions/goals for a project or the company as a whole
One co-worker seeking a romantic relationship with another who isn’t interested
A co-worker who wants to have fun on the job being paired with one who is all seriousness
Clashing Personality Trait Combinations:
Analytical and Empathetic, Bold and Cautious, Cooperative and Uncooperative, Oversensitive and Tactless, Decisive and Indecisive, Efficient and Flaky, Industrious and Lazy, Organized and Disorganized, Manipulative and Gullible
Negative Outcomes of Friction
Decreased productivity at work
Reprimands (being placed on suspension or given a bad performance review)
The character gaining the reputation of not being a team player
Being denied advancement opportunities at work (not getting a promotion, not being trusted with an important account, etc.)
Friction with a co-worker making things awkward or hostile
Being sabotaged by a co-worker
Employees choosing sides in a rivalry or workplace battle, creating a dysfunctional work environment
The business suffering
Decreased morale among employees
Missing out on opportunities to learn from co-workers whose strengths complement the character’s weaknesses
Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
Rival co-workers joining forces to defeat a common enemy from within (a pervy boss, a brown-nosing co-worker on the path to advancement, etc.)
Co-workers having to come together to land a huge account or client
Recognizing that they have something important in common
An opportunity that highlights each person’s strengths, resulting in mutual respect
The company being threatened by a merger or acquisition that would destroy it
A devastating development for a staff member that causes the co-workers to unite so they can bring aid, raise money, or provide relief
One character having to work with someone who is much worse than the co-worker and realizing how good they had it (i.e., not knowing what you’ve got ’til it’s gone)
Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Growth
Being inspired by a partner (to pursue education to improve in an area of weakness, to strive for a better work-life balance, etc.)
Being pushed by a partner to move past complacency and take healthy risks for the business
A partner realizing that they can’t do it all on their own
A partner learning to respect personal differences instead of disdaining them
Gaining confidence through success
Learning from a difficult partner what not to do in business relationships
Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
A Fall from Grace, Betrayal, Crossroads, Deception, Greed, Inflexibility, Perseverance, Recognition, Refuge, Rite of Passage, Sacrifice, Stagnation, Teamwork
Other Relationship Thesaurus entries can be found here.
Need More Descriptive Help?
While this thesaurus is still being developed, the rest of our descriptive collection (15 unique thesauri and growing) is accessible through the One Stop for Writers THESAURUS database.
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Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.