Relationship Thesaurus Entry: Co-Workers

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.


Dynamics of a Healthy Relationship
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

Dynamics of an Unhealthy Relationship
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
Sucking up to the boss
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
Gossiping about 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

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.

If you like, swing by and check out the video walkthrough, and then give our Free Trial a spin.


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. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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1 month ago

So excited about the new thesaurus!

1 month ago

So glad–this one will helpfully get us all thinking about how to maximize relationships in the story!