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If you ask people what they love most about their job, they’ll frequently say, “The people I work with.” If you ask people what they dislike most about their job, they’ll frequently say, “The people I work with.”

Most people who dislike the people they work with rarely do anything about it beyond trying to tune them out or avoid them whenever possible. This is a lousy strategy that doesn’t improve anything and encourages people to internalize stress. Instead of honest interactions, we have people playing games with each other. Avoidance of others may be a decent short-term strategy if you’re trying to get out of a dysfunctional organization unable to change, but it’s a poor choice if you have any hope of workplace happiness.

In Working Choices, I wrote about our three basic human responsibilities: responsibility to self, responsibility to others and responsibility to the community. Let’s look at what that middle responsibility means.

Responsibility to others is all about your relationships and doing the things you need to do to keep them healthy. There are five fundamental actions related to this responsibility:

Seek the true self: Many people enter relationships based on their personal expectations of what they want the other person to be. This is obviously true in many romantic encounters, but also applies to the workplace, where we heap expectations on leaders and co-workers as to how they should behave. Such a perspective is inherently unfair and invariably disappointing, because no one is here on this earth to live up to our expectations. To be truly responsible to others, we must release others from our expectations and establish a space where people are encouraged to be natural. This also validates and supports the self-responsible action of self-development, in that by letting go of our projections, we learn more about others and therefore ourselves.

Respect for Choices: Along with seeking the real person behind the expectations, it is necessary to learn to accept another person’s right to choose. This does not mean that if someone chooses to shoot you that you should let them go ahead and do it, for you would be violating your overriding responsibility to yourself. What it means is that you allow people the right to make choices and mistakes, just as you permit yourself the right to make similar choices (and similar mistakes). It also means practicing tolerance for choices that may not fit with your particular tastes, but as long as a choice brings no harm to another, you cannot interfere. It is up to the person making the decision to judge whether or not a choice will result in harm to him or herself.

Offering Assistance with Choices: All of us need help in sorting out choices. Sometimes we miss potential consequences or fail to take certain variables into account. We can help others by sharing information and by listening to their thinking. Sharing information and listening without bias are probably the two greatest gifts we can give someone who is facing a difficult choice. Keep in mind that assistance does not involve giving advice or finding other sneaky ways to try to force them to live up to your expectations. It means being there for them, not for you.

Defining Your Parameters: It is important to be fair to others, and being fair often involves explaining to another person your own personal limitations. You have to let people know what values are important to you so they can make choices as to how to relate to you. It is not fair to another person for you to withhold values and feelings when withholding that information could lead them to make unwise choices about how they interact with you.

Forgiveness: Just as we need to learn to forgive ourselves, we need to avoid beating up other human beings who engage in the ultimate human experience of screwing up. Your parameters will determine how much you can forgive, which is why it is wise to let the people close to you know just how far your tolerance goes. It is also possible to forgive someone while at the same time deciding that you really don’t think it’s a good idea to maintain the relationship. In this case, forgiving another is important for you in terms of letting go as it is for the other in terms of receiving permission to attempt change.

The way to make co-workers more likable is to begin to see their actions through their perspective instead of through your judgments. Clarifying your parameters is a more professional way of dealing with relationships than walking the other way when you see your obnoxious co-worker coming down the hall towards you. If you want to be successful in this world, you’re going to have to learn to successfully deal with all kinds of people, and that means  building relationships based on the open, honest communication that leads to mutual understanding.


About Bob Mendonsa

Bob Mendonsa is an experienced, engaging facilitator with over twenty years of experience delivering and designing leadership and organizational development programs at all organizational levels in a wide range of industries. Bob’s body of work also includes significant experience in team building, human resources and assignments as the top HR/OD executive at three different companies.

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