Hate your co-workers? Boss driving you crazy? Come home every day more frustrated than the last? It may seem easier said than done, but sometimes escaping the human challenges of working in an organization is nothing more than a mental exercise to help you see the situation a bit differently. Here are some tips to help you navigate interpersonal issues at work purely by changing your perspective.
Put it in context
When the people you work with are behaving in ways that you don’t understand or appreciate, it might be as simple as them having different individual preferences and work styles. Everyone is different, and there is no one “right” way that is better than the others.
It can be hard to understand how our colleagues are behaving if they have a significantly different style than we do. The key is to put their actions in context. If you can unlock a person’s personal preferences and predict how a person is going to react in a given situation, it can help you to better understand their perspective.
The Everything DiSC Workplace Profile is a perfect tool for doing just that. The DiSC model has been around for decades (a basic introduction is available here) as a way to categorize and understand individual preferences.
Applied to the workplace, the DiSC model tells me that…
- If my boss is a “D”, they are going to be great at making bold decisions, but hate dealing with complex details, so I won’t be surprised his/her head explodes if I send them a complex spreadsheet to explain decision making.
- If I’m an “i”, I know that I’m strong at personal interactions, and am naturally charismatic…but my competitive streak may be off-putting to others at times. Then, I know to make extra effort to reign it in as an act of consideration.
- If my co-worker is an “S” I know they have a very nurturing, even tempered personality, but they also struggle with change, don’t like surprises, and need time to process new information. I won’t be surprised if they don’t respond positively if I spring information on them at the last minute, and will make effort to give them the time they need to process.
- If my employee is a “C”, I know they are going to be extraordinarily detail and process-oriented, but they are also apt to want to work alone a lot, and may seem to not to want to be part of the team. I know they’re not necessarily anti-social – they just work better and feel more comfortable on their own.
When you use individual preferences to understand behavior, it can give you “aha!” moments to understand why your co-workers are behaving the way they are. If can also help you to adjust your own style and expectations to them to develop the working relationship.
Consider individual intentions
It’s a rare occurrence that someone comes into work thinking “You know what? My goal is to make John Smith’s life really difficult today.” Even the most cynical individuals don’t usually approach things with overtly negative intentions. They may just be doing what they consider is best, and overlook the implications it may have on others.
Let’s be clear: It’s not OK that they are not considering the impact of their actions on you…but you don’t have control over that. What you do have control over is not assuming the worst of their behavior. Ask yourself what their intentions are – Why are they doing it? What are they trying to achieve? Chances are that your answer is not going to be “they’re doing it to make my life difficult.” And if they don’t have the worst possible intentions, it is really so bad to give them the benefit of the doubt? Sometimes that simple action can be enough to diffuse things.
See the big picture
You can’t fight every battle. What’s more you shouldn’t even try. Sometimes, people get so focused on fighting the small battles that they lose sight of the war – they don’t keep the big picture in mind. They have an immature need for instant gratification, and don’t seem to know the definition of the word “compromise”.
Perspective is key here – getting caught up in the back and forth will just make things worse. You don’t need to win every small battle to meet your goals and be effective. Heck, sometimes it’s in your best interest to lose a small battle – it could set you up for a much bigger win. Have patience, and consider the larger dynamics at play. Who has power in the organization? Who influences them? What do they care about? How does what you want contribute to them getting the things they care about? Who makes their life difficult? Any number of factors can play into this but the takeaway is this: Don’t sweat the small stuff. It doesn’t help you meet your goals and get stuff done, and it just drives you crazy. Instead, keep it in its proper context and use it to get where you want to go.
Focus on your role
When you’re passionate about your work, it can be easy to want to get involved and have say in different activities in your organization, even if they are only tangentially related to your area. When you understand the role your management wants you to play, and the roles they want others to play, it can help you focus on the things that are really important. Stay focused – the less you get sucked into other peoples’ areas, the easier your life will be.
Your response may be “But they don’t know what they’re doing!”, or something to that effect. Here’s the thing: Unless you are in the military or in healthcare, you are not working in life or death situations. You can’t fight every battle, and letting someone else take the lead – even if they won’t do things the way you would have done it – probably isn’t going to result in the sky falling. So one of your co-workers does something differently than you would have done it…is that so bad? Certainly, it’s not worth the stress and frustration you bring to yourself worrying about it!
Find your balance
The benefit of work-life balance cannot be overstated. It’s different for everyone and there is no single right answer. However, one thing is for sure: The more dimension your life has, the less the little things in one specific dimension are going to bother you. So define your priorities, and make sure you have an active, fulfilling life outside of the office. Life should not be defined by work….work should be a means to create the life you want.
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