You may remember your impressionable years when you played in a sandbox in the park with other children. Think about whether you joined the other kids who were playing together, or if you sat alone with your new, shiny shovel and bucket. If it was the latter, your parents probably worried if you would be aloof and have a hard time making friends.
How about at work? Do you join your colleagues or stay to yourself? While staying to yourself and burying your head in the work that needs to be done may seem like the correct way to work, you may be labeled by your coworkers as a loner, antisocial, or even a snob. This is not how you want to be seen.
Be social, join your colleagues for lunch
Where I work we have a staff room where most of the employees gather to eat together. There we talk about current events. Anything from sports; local or worldwide news; family; and, yes, politics. We touch base. Laugh. We try not to talk about work, but that is sometimes unavoidable.
Sometimes I would prefer to eat lunch at my desk, rather than trudge to the staff room, but I know it’s important to interact with my colleagues. I don’t need to stay the whole hour we’re allotted for lunch, so I may eat and leave in half an hour. In this way, I get in a few laughs and engage in enough banter to remind my colleagues that I’m part of the team.
Be willing to help others
You’re buried with an assignment or two. You’d like to close your office door, if you have one, or retreat to another part of the building. How am I going to get all this work done, you wonder? One of your colleagues needs you to help her with a customer. You, after all, are the only expert in this area.
You have the option to tell your colleague that “there’s no way I can help you. I’ve got my own work to do.” But here’s the thing: when you’re working as a team, you don’t only have your own work. You are contributing to the overall goal of the company, and your work is merely a piece.
Am I suggesting you drop what you’re doing immediately all the time? No. There will be times when helping others can wait an hour, day, or even a week. This is when your ability to prioritize is important. One of my colleagues asked me if I could help his customer with a résumé. I told him I could in a few days. He and his customer were very grateful.
Deal effectively with conflict
For some reason a colleague has it in for you. You’re not sure why, but it’s obvious that there’s a conflict. You can ignore your colleague, react with anger, or take the high road and make an attempt to resolve it.
I recall a time when I didn’t make an effort to resolve a conflict between a colleague and myself. At first I was angry and willing to ignore her. Then I had a sense of uneasiness. Finally I was resigned to not speak with her at all. This went on for close to six months. To say I didn’t handle this well is untrue.
Another time I had a dispute with a colleague, but instead of letting it fester, I addressed it that day. “We should talk,” I told him. “I’d like that,” he said. I told him why I reacted with anger for what he had done. He explained how he misunderstood a procedure set in place. Wanting to be the bigger person, I apologized for my actions. Was I right or wrong? It didn’t matter. The very next day we were talking as if the incident never occurred.
I call one of my colleagues the peacekeeper, because when I tell him I’m disappointed with the behavior of another colleague, he’ll remind me that I need to let some things go. And he’s right; there are some issues that aren’t worth addressing. Some battles not worth fighting.
Accept others’ failures
Are you always right? Do you perform your duties without failure? Are you perfect? The answer to these questions is probably, “NO.” And if this is true, you’re not alone; no one is flawless. So why should you expect those you work with to be without flaws?
You will come across a boss who expects you to hand in perfect work. He may demand that you take on more work than humanly possible. In other words, he may be unrealistic in his expectations. Good bosses understand that their charges will commit errors, and occasionally will let them pass.
Don’t be too proud
There’s a reason why Pride is considered one of the most severe of the seven deadly sins. Of course a little pride is important, but when you feel you own every project or assignment and won’t let others contribute, you jeopardize the success of the team.
Have you ever felt that you were the only person who should be the leader of a project? I know the feeling. There was a project that I fought my boss to control to no avail. I realized I had to give up the project and let others contribute. I was proud and wanted the project for myself. I was that kid in the sandbox who wouldn’t share my shinny bucket and shovel.
Letting go of your pride may be difficult at first, but when you understand how important it is to let others contribute, so they can gain experience; you’ll see the bigger picture. This truly shows emotional intelligence (EQ). In addition, ask yourself if what you’re doing is necessarily right or the only way to do it.
What I’ve talked about in this post is the ability to get along with your colleagues and boss. Over and over I’ve spoken with job seekers who have lost their job due to personal conflict with the people with whom they work. Employers value more than ever the “soft” skill referred to interpersonal. Your ability to interact with your colleagues will take you places. Unable to work with others may lead you to talking with me…and I don’t want that.
Photo: Flickr, Maggie
Well written Bob. However, there are a couple of points where I differ with you…
1. An apology should be reserved for good people. If you apologize to somebody who has a bad character, you let the other person think that he / she had the right to feel offended. Some people are selfish, mean, and bad. They will play dirty politics with you and will do all kinds of wrong things to move up the corporate ladder. Giving an apology to these kinds of people amounts to giving them ammunition. They will use the ammunition whenever they deem it appropriate. Flexible thinking should not be equated with low standards of achievement. The core values of any business / service should not be compromised at the altar of better inter-personal relations between team members. A bad team member should be given enough chances to correct itself. But if the situation repeats itself again and again, the member should be terminated from the company with due notice.
2. Some people are die-hard perfectionists (Steve Jobs, Akira Kurosawa, James Cameroon). They push themselves and push the other people into achieving very high standards of achievement. A mature organization should give such personalities enough space to prove themselves and become a part of the team. Perfectionists can contribute towards the growth and betterment of a company / society in many ways. Forcing them to adjust with mediocre ways only kills their motivation and makes them unhappy. There is no crime worse than killing the motivation of an employee who could improve the productivity of the business with its knowledge and insight of making things better.