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Playing Well with Others

Playing Well with Others
Playing Well with Others

    Hell, said French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, is other people. For all our good intentions in life, there are people who just seem to get under our skin, who go out of their way to sabotage our efforts — often without even knowing it — or to whom we just can’t relate.

    At the same time, we live in a world where our ability to get along with other people is increasingly valued. Companies are decentralizing decision-making, putting more authority in the hands of team-members whose actions are evaluated as a group; social networking has assumed new importance for everything from getting jobs to entertaining one’s self to writing academic works; even our architecture demands more and more interpersonal contact, with all its potential for friction, as employers move beyond the semi-open cubicle farm to fully open workspaces.

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    In short, we live in a world with fewer and fewer walls, and we are increasingly judged on our ability to deal with the challenges that entails. You don’t have to like everyone you meet, but you do have to manage to work with them, whether as co-workers and colleagues, clients, or consultants and service providers.

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    Getting Along Ain’t So Hard

    The good news is that it’s not especially difficult to work productively with other people, if you have the right attitude. With not much work, you’ll find that encounters with even the most annoying people can be productive.

    The keys to playing well with others are:

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    • Listen productively
      Listening involves more than just nodding your head and saying “Hmmm…” every once in a while. Try to hear not only what a person is saying, but what they mean (this means don’t jump on mistakes — “But you said…”). What are their real concerns? Most people don’t want to expose themselves too much, to make themselves vulnerable, so often they’ll couch their true feelings in difficult and obtuse language; you have to try to cut through that to get to the core of what is being said.
    • Ask questions
      Another way we protect ourselves is to avoid looking like we don’t know something — so we don’t ask questions. If you’re unclear on something, ask. If you think you might be unclear, ask. One good strategy is to rephrase what’s been said and ask if that’s what was meant. “You want me to show you how to print to a remote printer, is that right?”
    • Show interest
      Try to be sensitive to changes in the people around you, in everything from mood to hairstyle. Ask questions about their life and their interests. Not only can you learn a lot if you show the least bit of interest, most people love to talk about themselves — give them the opportunity, and you’ll have made a friend out of them.
    • Enable innovation by asking “why?”
      We often succumb to the urge to criticize — and frequently with good reason. But nobody likes being on the receiving end of criticism. Turn the negative energy of criticism around by asking “Why?” — as in “Why do you think this will increase sales?” or “Why would this process work better than the one we already use?” The idea is to get them to reach the point where their idea crumbles on their own — and to give them an opportunity to work through that point, if they can.
    • Understand their perspective
      Here’s a unique thought: everyone does everything they do for what they believe are good reasons. It’s true — no matter how stupid or mean-spirited or incompetent someone’s decisions might look to you, they thought they were doing the right thing at the time. Your job as a fellow human being is not to tell them how stupid or mean or incompetent they are, but to figure out what their rationale could have been.
    • Act as if you’re wrong
      When I interviewed Tatsuya Nakagawa and Peter Paul Roosen on Lifehack Live, they said something startling: don’t fall in love with your ideas. That doesn’t mean don’t champion them; it means you need to create a space around your ideas where they can be tested. Bring ideas to other people and ask them to show you what’s wrong with them. Be open to other ideas that might be better.
    • Share credit
      Nobody accomplishes anything all on their own. At some point near the end of any project spend a few minutes to figure out who you couldn’t have done it without — from the administrative assistant who sorted your handouts to the vendor representative who helped you make an important connection — and make sure they receive ample credit. Be sincere and appreciative toward anyone that lend you a hand.
    • Keep your commitments
      There’s a saying that “you are only as good as your word”. No matter how insignificant a task seems to you, once you tell someone you’re going to do it, do it. Do it quickly, do it as well as you possibly can, and do it cheerfully. The time for not doing it was before you made the commitment — not later when you decide it’s not something you care to do or you don’t have time for it.

    For the most part, playing well with others is a matter of simple respect — even for people you can’t stand. Especially for people you can’t stand. So many people get hauled into ugly office politics and interpersonal rivalries because they think they’re scoring points by treating their “enemies” without respect — get over yourself. You come off looking just as bad as the person you imagine yourself enemies with looks to you, and you reduce everyone’s ability to work.

    Instead, be like The Dude — “Abide”. Keep yourself clean of office politics, and make yourself an asset to those around you. Or, of course, you can live in the Hell Sartre said we create for ourselves out of our relationships with other people. How much fun does that sound?

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    Anyone have any other advice for playing well with others? Let us know in the comments!

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    Last Updated on January 15, 2021

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

    Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

    Posture

    First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

    • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
    • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
    • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
    • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

    All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

    Facial Expressions

    Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

    • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
    • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
    • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

    If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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    1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

    A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

    The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

    This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

    2. Relax Your Face

    New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

    The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

    To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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    3. Improve Your Eye Contact

    Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

    The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

    To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

    3. Smile More

    There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

    Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

    4. Hand Gestures

    Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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    It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

    5. Enhance Your Handshake

    In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

    “Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

    It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

    6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

    As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

    Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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    Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

    Final Takeaways

    Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

    If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

    More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

    Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

    Reference

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