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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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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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