6 Steps to Thriving at Work: Step 2


Dealing With Coworkers

One of the buzzwords in managerial circles these days is “teamwork,” but no one’s completely sure how to make it happen, beyond taking the staff on morale-building rope courses and trust-building exercises.

For all the mystery surrounding it, true teamwork comes down to knowing your job, doing it well, respecting the other members in your group, and working with them to accomplish a common goal. So how do you learn to collaborate with your coworkers without sacrificing your individual work agenda? Here are the six areas that will help:

Learn to Listen

Clarify What’s in Conflict

Find a Common Goal

Don’t Take Things Personally–Or Make Things Personal

Keep to the Issue at Hand

Don’t Let Your Friendship Get in the Way of Your Job

Learn to Listen

One of the biggest things you can do for any relationship in your life is to learn how to listen. Most interpersonal problems stem from each party feeling misunderstood and belittled. If you can learn to really hear what the other person is trying to say and repeat it back to them in a manner so they feel they’ve been validated, you’re more than halfway to a solution.

Clarify What’s in Conflict

If you’re in conflict with a coworker, figure out what your bottom-line position is. For instance, if you and a colleague need to decide who will give the presentation at the sales meeting and neither of you wants to do it, determine what your real issue is before you begin to discuss the topic.

Can you give the presentation, but you’re not able to create it? Or are you scheduled to be on vacation that week, so while you don’t mind doing all the background work, you’re simply unavailable for the meeting? By knowing what your sticking points are, you’ll be prepared to negotiate on the other issues.

Find a Common Goal

When in conflict, it sometimes seems you’re at loggerheads with the other person and a “meeting of the minds” is impossible. By reminding yourself–and your colleague–that you are ultimately working toward the same end, you can put yourself on the same side rather than working against each other. This can open the doors to cooperation, allowing you to reach a solution that you might otherwise have overlooked.

Let’s say you were caught off-guard when, at the staff meeting, your coworker vehemently opposed a new marketing plan you thought would gain unanimous support. By taking the time to question him about his objections, you discover your proposed plan would pull valuable resources away from a marketing program he’s about to implement.

Once you both recognize that you’re aiming for the same goal–i.e, increased publicity, higher sales–then you can envision how to work together to make both plans work, possibly by pooling resources, scaling back portions of your programs, or delaying the start date.

Don’t Take Things Personally–Or Make Things Personal

It’s easy to assume that when someone rejects your idea or creates a roadblock, he or she is attacking you personally. In truth, these instances are rarely personal. Most people are just trying to do their jobs, but frequently, a curt response or disagreement is mistakenly interpreted as a personal affront.

Rather than letting the situation escalate by arguing over who’s right and who’s wrong, step back and realize that no one is out to get you. It’s not personal, and there’s nothing to be gained by turning your frustration into a battle with the individual who probably wants what you do–the right outcome in the least amount of time and with the least amount of confrontation.

By maintaining a professional demeanor and attitude, you maintain your dignity and allow the other person to do the same–whether or not you reach a mutually agreeable outcome.

Stick to the Issue at Hand

Marriage counselors often tell couples dealing with conflict that they should stick to the topic at hand when they find themselves in the middle of a disagreement. By limiting the scope of a disagreement, you’ll avoid detouring into the irrelevant and improve your chances of reaching an effective resolution.

If you’re upset with your coworker because he or she has taken off at noon every Friday for a month, leaving you responsible for writing the weekly report and handling the phones, address that single issue. Don’t let the conversation wander into a discussion of the time he was late for boss’ presentation and his unspell-checked memos.

By the same token, you should tactfully prevent the other person from raising unrelated issues. Instead, say, “I’m happy to discuss those concerns at a later time, but right now I’d like to come resolve how we’re going to handle the workload on Fridays.” Repeat the phrase as often as you have to until your coworker focuses on the topic you sat down to resolve.

Don’t Let Friendship Get in the Way of Your Job

It’s terrific when your coworkers turn out to be friends, too, but it’s important that you not let work become a social club.

For some people, it’s easy to separate work life from personal life, even if their officemate is also their roommate. However, it’s more common when personal feelings start to influence how you treat friends on the job.

While you don’t need to surround yourself with emotional barriers, you should be careful about what you say to your coworker-friends on–and off–the job. And keep enough distance so you can preserve your on-the-job loyalty where it belongs: with the person signing your paycheck.