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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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    Published on April 7, 2021

    6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

    6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

    Some of the most manipulative people are so good at what they do that their words and actions can convince you into thinking they truly care about what’s best for you when in reality, it’s quite the opposite. The most common signs of a controlling person are rarely obvious to outside observers. And for someone enmeshed in a controlling relationship or friendship, it can be incredibly challenging to stay away from this toxic person, even if you’re aware of their emotionally abusive tendencies.

    While it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether to preserve or leave a lopsided, unfulfilling relationship, it’s nevertheless critical to understand the following six signs of controlling people so you can better advocate for yourself and mitigate the influence of their manipulative tendencies in your own life.

    1. They Push Their Own Personal Agenda

    Do you know someone who always tries to micromanage the words, behaviors, and attitudes of people around them? Does this person act like they have the right to know anything they want about you, including your location, what you’re doing in a given moment, who you’re talking to online, or any other private information about you? And when planning events and special occasions, does this person dominate conversations, steer plans in their own preferred directions, disparage others’ suggestions, and refuse to collaborate with anyone who might disagree with them?

    If you answered “yes” to some of the above questions, then those are clear signs of a controlling person whom you absolutely need to be cautious around. Controlling people are reluctant to even consider alternative ideas, let alone enthusiastically work with people who have differing views. They prefer to be the captain of every ship—regardless of how much or how little an issue personally impacts them—and they have an arsenal of manipulative tactics to deploy if someone stands in the way of them achieving their own personal agendas.

    In long-term relationships with controlling people, you may feel constantly pressured to meet their demands, follow their schedule, and focus on whatever they feel is most important. It’s not an exaggeration to say that these people act like the universe revolves around them, which can be exhausting to deal with for their family members, friends, and colleagues.

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    2. They Make Everything Transactional

    Controlling people aren’t always self-centered, but they’re not too empathetic either. Empathy for them tends to appear in the form of strategic concessions they use as a means to get what they want. They typically view interpersonal relationships as transactional opportunities to extract more value from people surrounding them, which can have a draining effect on those they interact with.

    For example, one sign of a controlling person may be their insistence on “keeping score.” This can involve doing nice things for you with the ulterior motive of demanding something from you at a later date in exchange for what you thought was just an act of kindness or a friendly support.

    Perhaps they shower you in praise (also known as “love-bombing”) or gifts then blow up at you if you don’t intuitively know they’re expecting something back from you. None of us are mind-readers, but controlling people behave as though everyone else should think and act like they want others to and those who fall out of line are punished for failing to meet their impossible expectations.

    A controlling person may also threaten to withhold support if you don’t adhere to their demands, but they do so in such subtle ways that the guilt they impose blinds you from the unreasonable nature of their behaviors.

    Some statements to be wary of include:

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    • “I did ___________ for you. What do you mean you can’t do ___________ for me?”
    • “Remember how I helped you with ___________? That took a lot of time and energy from me, but I guess you didn’t appreciate my help.”
    • “I always give you ___________. Don’t you care about my needs too?”
    • “You’re so selfish!” or “You don’t care about me at all!” (gaslighting if you respond with hesitation or politely decline their request for help for perfectly valid reasons, such as not having enough time or resources to assist them)

    3. They Criticize Everything

    One of the most common telltale signs of a controlling person is their capacity to criticize anything and everything, even small things that seemingly don’t matter. As with many toxic traits in relationships, these problems typically start out so small that you may not even notice. At first, you may even agree with their criticism or at least be able to understand their perspective when they bring up an issue.

    However, the criticism tends to get more intense, more constant, and more perplexing for people who maintain relationships with controlling people. You’ll likely notice how they rarely seem to criticize something they do. It’s almost always other-oriented and these types of people are so manipulative that any rationale they offer can seem plausibly legitimate.

    Some warning signs of a controlling person who’s overly critical to the point of abusiveness include:

    • Criticizing things about you that you have little to no control over (e.g., appearance, disability, family)
    • Criticizing your personal choices and interests, such as educational pursuits, career, clothing, favorite music, time spent on your hobbies, etc.
    • Punishing you for expressing vulnerability by invalidating thoughts and feelings you share with them
    • Attacking you whenever you express an opinion counter to theirs

    4. They Balk When Someone Criticizes Them

    We all know the adage, “what goes around, comes around.” But this statement doesn’t apply as much to toxic, controlling people. They’d much prefer to dish out criticism without ever having to take it in return.

    For instance, if your friend constantly talks about your appearance with little regard for your emotions but flips out if you make just a single comment about their appearance, there’s a possibility that they could have some hidden controlling tendencies left unchecked. Remember, these people aren’t just controlling in their behaviors towards others. They’re also actively trying to stay in complete control over every aspect of their lives, which includes how others view them.

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    This seemingly insatiable desire for control can prompt them to lash out against even the smallest bits of criticism, leaving people around them too weary or scared to speak up again in the future. While it’s possible they may suffer from something called rejection sensitivity dysphoria, this does not excuse them from the consequences of their words and actions. They should seek professional help to better manage their reactions to criticism.

    5. They Socially Isolate You

    Not all controlling people do this, but for manipulative narcissists, socially isolating victims is a go-to strategy for maintaining control because it’s effective at preventing people from truly understanding how toxic their partner, family member, or friend is treating them. Think of it this way—if you don’t talk to many other people in your life, there’s less of a risk that you’ll damage their reputation by revealing their abusive tendencies.

    Socially isolating others also gives the person more control over you and your life as it becomes more difficult to break away from them if you don’t have other healthier channels of communication and interpersonal support to turn to.

    This process doesn’t happen overnight, nor is it something you can readily recognize as abusive. At first, it may seem reasonable, such as asking you to stop engaging so often with family members with whom both of you disagree on major social or political issues. As the social isolation progresses, they may suggest cutting people out of your life—especially if they don’t like that person, regardless of how you personally feel—or even conjure up high-stakes problems like “it’s me or them” under the guise of saving you from people in your life whom they don’t like for whatever reason.

    In a controlling person’s life narrative, they’re always the protagonist who’s incapable of any wrongdoing. The blame is always redirected at someone else, whether that’s you or other people in your life. The more they isolate you from other supportive people in your life, the more susceptible you’ll be to falsely believing that they’re right and you “don’t need” your other friends and family when you have someone as perfect as this person.

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    6. They’re Emotionally Abusive

    It’s hard enough to be in control of your own emotions but when someone else is constantly belittling you and your interests or leveraging guilt and shame to manipulate you into saying or doing what they want, this can make it even more challenging to stay in control of your own life and emotional well-being.

    Emotional abuse is another sign of a controlling person that is often overlooked in relationships. After all, human personalities vary widely in terms of passivity, and it’s not uncommon for one person in a relationship to be significantly more passive than the other. This becomes an issue when the controlling partner or friend exudes signs of emotional abuse, which can start subtly and become much more pronounced over time.

    Concerning signs of emotionally abusive language or behavior to watch out for include:

    • Dismissing your needs and/or belittling your interests in counterproductive ways
    • Privately or publicly shaming or humiliating you
    • Making you feel as though you can never live up to their expectations or do anything right (according to their own vague, subjective standards)
    • Gaslighting you into thinking they said or did something that never actually happened (making you question your own reality)

    Final Thoughts

    It’s sometimes hard to see the negative things about someone with whom we have a relationship. We may sometimes unconsciously overlook the signs of a controlling person, especially if that person is someone we have known for a long time or are close to us. However, cutting them off your life is the best thing you can do for yourself. Just watch out for these six signs of a controlling person and take immediate action when you spot them.

    More Tips on How To Deal With a Controlling Person

    Featured photo credit: Külli Kittus via unsplash.com

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