"There is no control, only relationships."
As people start to imagine how the workplace will be as they come back from the enforced hiatus of the past year it might be time to consider how you relate to your colleagues. Often, when we are asked to work with a team to help them collaborate and communicate in better ways, it is obvious that the problems lie in the strange dance that we all do around the individuals with whom we sometimes spend more time with than members of our family.
Here are three thoughts that might help you to get the most out of your co-workers and minimise the stresses and tensions of the workplace.
1) See the good things, instead of the bad.
Nobody’s perfect. We are all annoying in our own way, but we find ways to forgive ourselves. Extend that courtesy to your co-workers. Instead of focusing on the irritating things that they do, focus on their positive qualities – what you appreciate about them.
There is a Taoist story of the man who complains to a philosopher about a cherry tree in his town: “It is so old that it no longer bears fruit, and it is so bent that if I chopped it down I would be unable to make anything from the wood. What use is it?”
The philosopher replies, “It’s uselessness is why it is useful. No one will ever cut it down to use the wood, it’s foliage will never be shredded as people try to harvest its fruit, so people will always be able to rest in its shade on a hot day.”
Everyone has good qualities if you look for them and everyone sees the world in their own unique way. Embrace different viewpoints to gain a more nuanced picture of the world. The introvert who sits and listens quietly in a room full of extroverts might see things that the majority cannot. Make space for them, accommodate their difference and embrace their divergent view of the situation.
2) Listen without feeling the need to judge or advise.
Sometimes people just need to vent. On a basic, profane level, it has been proved that swearing when you hurt yourself, such as accidently bumping your head or hitting your thumb with a hammer, actually helps you cope with the pain better than if you keep quiet. This need to let things out extends to emotional pain too.
There’s a strong causal link between Powerlessness, Fear and Anger. If you feel you have no power in a situation, things are done to you – you have no agency to affect them. If you are powerless it is very easy to be afraid. People who are afraid often become angry.
If someone needs to let off steam, let them do just that. Don’t openly agree with them as that might offer justification to their emotional state, but by the same token, don’t judge what they are saying or offer advice. Your judgement or counselling is not going to help their feelings of being “done to”.
If the person is a customer, complaining about something you have, or have not done, there is one guaranteed way to make things worse with just six little words:
“Can I just stop you there?”
That phrase, delivered mid-rant, is a cast iron way to give the complainant more energy to carry on. Instead, see them and their complaint like a balloon that is deflating. However angry you might be, in the absence of somebody arguing, justifying, excusing or explaining a position, it is almost impossible to maintain a sustained, high level of righteous indignation. Listen to – don’t just “hear” – their grievance (and to understand the difference check out this link), and then find a way to address their concerns.
3) Lower your expectations.
It’s better to not expect too much and be presently surprised, rather than set your standards so high that you are setting the stage for disappointment and resentment. We’re all fighting our own battles every day. No one knows what is happening in someone else’s life, and no one can say, definitively, that a task is “easy” or “hard”. What one person can accomplish easily might be incredibly difficult for another… but we all have our own personal skills that we bring to the table.
Above all, refrain from the toxic business obsession with developing people into “complete, whole, fully-rounded, multi-skilled individuals.” If you will forgive me a sporting analogy, Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest footballer in the world is predominantly left-footed. For every touch he makes with his right foot he will make ten with his left, yet no coach takes him on one side and makes him do a course in being right-footed.
The grim reality is that if Mr Messi worked in many organisations, not only would his annual appraisal highlight his underuse of his right foot, but he would be pushed in the direction of e-learning modules and workplace training initiatives to improve his skills as a goalkeeper or make him a better defender. Instead, all his teammates and the coaches and managers he plays for know that he has two roles: to make goals and to score goals. If he can do that with a ten-to-one preference for his left foot, so be it.
If you would like some help to get your return to the workplace off to a great start, get in touch. It might be a perfect opportunity to set in place new, long-lasting protocols that will improve everyone’s experience.