You can be smart, well-trained, and have great business sense, but if no one wants to work with you, you’re sunk. Headstrong, difficult people struggle in business because on top of all of the normal professional challenges, they’re fighting for time, attention, and influence. What they don’t often realize or acknowledge is that they’ve undermined themselves. It can downright hard to acknowledge that you’re a difficult person to work with, but that figuring it out and addressing it will solve a lot of problems for everyone.
When no one wants to work with you, you limit your options and opportunities — usually without realizing it. Somebody who is difficult to work with may have some or all of these issues:
- They have poor professional manners. This shows up particularly in email and meetings. Of course, accepted office behavior varies some from one organization to the next, but most employees avoid those who consistently operate outside of the normal social bounds. Perhaps they’re too loud, too late, too demanding, or too disorganized — and they stand out because of it.
- They gossip. Most office gossips are indiscriminate. They don’t actually care who they’re talking about, they just have to be talking about someone else. The issue, of course, is that you know they’re talking about you when you’re out of earshot. This behavior erodes trust, and causes others to keep their distance.
- They are unable to hear other points of view. Everyone within the organization has something to contribute. Any coworker who can only see “their way” between points A and B will eventually find themselves on a one-person team.
- They don’t hold up their end of the bargain. In a previous job, I worked with someone known as the “Teflon queen.” Nothing (meaning any actual work) ever stuck to her. In retrospect, she was pretty masterful at avoiding any actual tasks or responsibilities. Everything required someone else to take action before she could touch it — and then it’d just magically be done. Workload in the office will never be evenly distributed, but it also can’t be completely imbalanced. Everyone must perform their role to the best of their abilities.
The flip side of each of these four can be viewed as a checklist for what to do instead. To be the person everyone in the office wants to work with, you must do the following:
- Understand the office social norms and only veer outside of those behaviors intentionally and for a specific purpose. If you find yourself truly unable to operate within the normal expected office behavior, you’re in the wrong job. And all of us need to be a little loud or a little late from time to time. But avoid making those the “default” to how you show up at work.
- Avoid gossip. No exceptions. The easiest rule of thumb here is to never say something that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. If you’re able to keep this in mind before speaking, you’ll eventually get into the habit and keep unproductive, offhand comments to yourself.
- Be open to various points of view. I’ve never worked on a project that wasn’t made better by the input of someone else. Designate the right time and place to solicit feedback, take it, and incorporate what works for you and the project. Reminding others that you’d like to hear from them will encourage them to speak up and share their thoughts on future projects, and give you a reputation as a team player, as well.
- Pull your weight. This is incredibly simple, but essential. Know and do your job. If something comes up that lands in your lane of responsibility, claim it, figure it out, get help (if needed), but just get it done. This rule doesn’t just apply to managing the massive corporate “to do” list, but also to strategic thinking as well. There is a role for everyone to contribute to the vision and direction of the organization in some capacity. Don’t limit yourself to just a working bee role all of the time. Find ways to pull your weight in future planning sessions, as well.
Being someone in the office that everyone wants to work with is a distinct career advantage. It’ll open up more doors than you could anticipate, because we all want to work with people who demonstrate these basic but essential professional qualities. It’s important to keeping and going your job well.