I’m going to kick this article off by giving you examples of two kinds of people: these are generalizations of course, but the idea here is for you to get a clear picture in your head of these people and see how that makes you feel. Who knows—maybe you’ll see yourself in one of these examples, as self-reflection often comes in unexpected places, and realize that there are a few things you could work on. Then again, let’s not get too lofty.
Heather storms into your office (or cubicle or what have you), and says “Please tell me you’re ready for the meeting this afternoon. I hope you are, because I haven’t had time to get any of the work done. I’ve been so slammed with this extra project that Jack gave me, you know Jack right, the head of marketing? Well, he gave me this project to work on and I just haven’t had time to prepare for this meeting, so you’d better be on the ball because we don’t want to look stupid do we? Anyways, it’s not like you’ve been busy have you, I mean, what do you make thirty two a year…?”
As you can imagine, it goes on for a bit longer, and you don’t manage to get maybe one or two words in, if you’re lucky. Heather, in this example, is far too aggressive. She barges in and starts yapping without any regard to what you may have been working on or what you may have been doing. Not only that, she is completely unprepared for a meeting and expects you to carry her. To add icing to the aggressive/annoying/obnoxious cake that she has brought into your office, she says that the reason that she isn’t prepared is because she was given this extra project and, in a way, is implying that she is special for having been chosen to do it.
Basically everything about this approach to communicating in the workplace is wrong.
You’re at the machine in the copy room, making sure there are enough flyers advertising the softball team to go around (keep in mind that these are just examples and it doesn’t matter whether there is a softball team, or if you work in a real office, at all). Gary walks in and stands behind you. He hasn’t announced himself yet, or tapped you on the shoulder, but you know he’s there. You also know that he’s the shy sort and likely won’t announce himself, so you turn around. “Heya, Gary” you say. “Oh. Hey, you” he responds. “So. I know that we have the end of quarter analysis coming up and that we’re all going to be busy, but, I don’t know, do you think that you could hurry up with that spreadsheet? I mean, you don’t have to. I guess. I could do it. It’s only, you know, I have this vacation coming up and, well, I did kind of want to take it before the next quarter. I guess I don’t have to, go on vacation I mean, it’s just that…”
This isn’t as bad as Heather, for sure, but nearly. Gary, in this case, is much too passive. In fact, he’s well beyond passive and bordering on milquetoast. For those of you who don’t know what a milquetoast is, it’s the perfect way to describe people like Gary: wishy-washy pushovers who don’t seem to be able to stand up for themselves, but also can’t help but play the victim.
Again, the examples were drastic, but the point was to get the type across. When dealing with office relationships you can’t come off as too aggressive (it never pays to be on everyone’s “people to kill” list), and passive doesn’t work either because you’ll never get the respect that you deserve.
There is a fragile balance in the workplace where communication is concerned, especially at modern shared workspaces where you may not be speaking to someone in the same company.
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