The nature of the corporate environment dictates that we collaborate with people of varying personalities, mindsets and perspectives in order to successfully accomplish a shared objective. Everyone has a unique way of getting things done and our way of achieving the goal may be at odds with another person’s way of doing things.
Situations like these can result in unpleasant/awkward moments, inefficient allocation of resources, unnecessarily lengthy periods for completion, harmful/negative conflict, instantly broken work relationships and strained work relationships moving forward.
While everyone likes to think of themselves as being open-minded, fair, unbiased, non-judgmental, professional and reasonable in the workplace, in reality, we rarely are and even when we are, our colleagues may not be. Accordingly, we must find a way to keep situations such as these few, far and in between but should they arise, we need to equip ourselves with mechanisms for minimizing the effects, maximizing a positive result/outcome and maintaining professional, effective work relationships.
Minimize Judgement and Be Open-minded
We all do it! Sometimes without even realizing it, we judge, stereotype, paint people and situations with a broad brush thereby entering the situation or having an initial encounter with someone tainted by preconceived notions. Sometimes the result of well-established prejudice like gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, financial status, or dietary choices (vegans/vegetarians).
Other times may be the result of the office rumour mill churning out unpleasant whispers and conferring negative nicknames (spawn of satan or Dictator Deborah) for a prominent undesirable character trait or past negative behaviour. While it is extremely difficult and requires a lot of practice, do not let the office rumour mill, your past experience or personal bias taint the current situation or your perception of the individual in question.
Give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Even if you are working with someone that you had an unpleasant experience working with before, still try to give that person the benefit of the doubt. While depending on the nature of the situation, clearing the air and resolving past issues may be necessary. Sometimes, the best approach is a broad one. Indicate to the person that while the last time you worked together, was less than pleasant, you are open-minded and mature enough to put it behind you to start anew in order to successfully complete the task at hand and ask that they do the same.
Focus on Similarities and Commonality
While it’s easy to focus on differences, it’s much more productive and beneficial to the overall objective to focus and build on similarities. Do you and your coworker share any similarities in background, experiences, character traits and or beliefs? You may have to start small like music, movie or reading interests, but if you are willing to put in the time and make the effort, sooner rather than later you will discover areas of commonality that you can draw on and build in order to achieve the task at hand.
Focusing on commonality rather than differences is a reminder that while perspectives may differ, similar aspects also exist. Identifying and building on similarities is an excellent way to start a meaningful positive work relationship and foundation upon which you can really begin to appreciate the other person’s background, perspective and viewpoint.
Listen and Really Seek to Understand
We live in a world of constant disruption and endless distractions. We have become desensitized to how much and how often we use our mobile phones and other electronic devices. Especially when placed in circumstances and situations that are stressful or do not interest or engage us, we retreat into our mobile phones and electronic devices more than ever. Accordingly, working with someone we do not know, may dislike or simply prefer not to work with, is likely to result in us glueing ourselves to our electronic devices to avoid interactions with that person as much as possible.
Sadly, however, this is likely to exacerbate the situation. Put away your electronic devices and engage your coworker in a conversation or discussion. Really listen to what he or she has to say and genuinely try to understand his or her perspective and the factors or circumstances that led to the adoption of that viewpoint. The knowledge/insight may even change your own perspective (or not) but even if you do not agree with the perspective, appreciating it is likely to help you better understand the person, how they think and see things and therefore better able to communicate and collaborate with them in a way that is likely to achieve the desired objective easier and more efficiently.
Be Flexible and Willing to Learn
Taking a hard and fast approach to workplace collaboration rarely works. Your way of doing things, while effective, may not be the most efficient, the easiest or the most economical way to achieve the objective. This is why brainstorming is such an effective mechanism for overcoming challenges and solving problems.
However, reluctance to listen/understand and unwillingness to learn may also stunt your professional development as your colleague may have a better plan, method or technique through which to achieve the desired outcome. If you are too stubborn to listen, too afraid to try something new and too educated to learn, then you will never be privy to the idea that the task could be completed more efficiently. If you are never even open to the idea, then you deny yourself the opportunity to learn and eventually master the process of achieving the objective/outcome more efficiently.
Don’t make things personal
As we spend most of our time at work and more time with coworkers than our own families, it may be easy to take things, comments and situations very personally. However, taking things personally in the workplace should be minimized or avoided altogether in order to achieve organizational and departmental objectives more efficiently. While you have no control over the behaviour or actions of another person, people generally tend to mimic/mirror the actions and behaviour you portray when interacting with them. Accordingly, you should avoid the display of certain behaviours at all costs.
Regardless of the circumstances, always be polite and respectful. Under no circumstance should you resort to violence or the use of obscene language and or name-calling even if the other person does. You should also try not to overthink situations or place too much emphasis on the criticisms made of you. Instead of muddling the issues or playing ‘tit for tat’ by trying to criticize the person who criticized you for something completely unrelated because you feel hurt, instead try to put aside your bruised ego, hurt feelings and examine the content of the criticism in order to really develop and improve yourself moving forward.
Compromise and Find Solutions
So you were open-minded, didn’t judge, focused on similarities, listened and really sought to understand. You were flexible, willing to learn and didn’t take things personally. Yet you still find yourself in a space where you and your coworker(s) are yet to agree, see eye to eye or reach any consensus. In circumstances such as these, it’s best to remind yourself that a course of action must be taken in order to move the process forward. While you may not agree with the idea or action plan being presented, you have a responsibility to your colleagues, unit/department and organization to work as part of a team and assist in finding the solution.
If your professional opinion on the matter is one that you simply cannot compromise, but you find yourself in the minority, it is your responsibility to formally and clearly document your disagreement with the way forward, stating all your reasons for same. However, once you have done this, you also have an obligation to your colleagues, team and organization to use your skillset, competence and abilities to assist with implementation of the decided way forward. Remember that individual compromise may result in success and a positive outcome to the benefit of the team/organization. Therefore we sometimes have to “be willing to lose a battle in order to win the war.” H Jackson Brown