Workplace Dynamics

Yes, we can all get along. (Even you and the gum-smacker next to you.)

What could possibly come from forcing a group of diverse individuals to breathe the same recirculated air eight hours a day?

Sure the workplace can be the ideal setting for the kind of claustrophobia, tension and potential for backstabbing that fuel reality shows. But in the real “Real World” that is your office, there’s a lot you can do to make coworkers your biggest asset – a source of information, insight, support, camaraderie and, sometimes, endless amusement. Of course, if you fail to handle yourself properly or aren’t sensitive to others, they can make your work experience an unpleasant daily grind.

So, short of playing possum, or donning body armor and noise-canceling headphones, what’s a new employee to do? There are all sorts of issues to consider, from basics like what to wear (what’s “business casual”?) to big-deal stuff like coping with a coworker who’s not pulling their weight. You can also pretty much count on working with people two or three times your age – which raises all sorts of opportunities for interpersonal awkwardness and intergenerational dilemmas.

Sure, every workplace is different, and ideas about what’s acceptable in dress or etiquette are constantly evolving. But it’s a good idea to bone up on the basics of etiquette and workplace dynamics, so at the very least you’ll have a good idea of what (and who) to be on the lookout for.

Getting along doesn’t really have to be that difficult; it just takes a little common sense, a bit of courtesy and sometimes compromise. Here are a few tips that may help.

Chat away from your desk

Nothing is more annoying than being in the middle of a project when a coworker wants to chat. You also want to make a favorable impression on the boss and other coworkers who may see your chit-chat time as unproductive. Be direct with the well-intentioned yet interrupting coworkers by politely reminding them that the task at hand needs to occupy your attention. Then make an offer to catch up during the coffee break or over lunch.

Practice active listening

During discussions with coworkers, make sure your contribution is one-third mouth and two-thirds ears; after all, that’s how humans are designed, right? A nod, eye-contact, and occasional verbal comment are important to communicate that you’re really paying attention. Never, ever interrupt when someone is talking. This is rule number one in order to appear as a good communicator (yes, by not talking). Focus intently on the speaker and only interject after you use the three-second rule: the speaker pauses, you count to three (in your head), and then reply with questions, or paraphrasing to ensure your understanding of the message. When in doubt, just zip it.

Avoid controversial subjects

Let’s talk turkey…politics, religion, and personal values are off limits in public. If you find yourself gobbled up in a conversation that appears to be going the direction of conflicting viewpoints (which may lead to ruffled feathers), tactfully introduce a different topic or make a neutral or even witty statement to avert tensions. Keeping conversations on the lighter side can go a long way toward consistently getting along with others.

Respect diversity

Organizations today employ a wide variety of people from varying cultures and experience levels which encourages innovation and creativity.  An efficient workforce is one secret to profitability. Businesses lose money yearly through unconscious and subtle ways by assuming that diversity has no significant business impact. Diversity is the key element in producing high performance since people make things happen, not structure or process. Bottom line – diversity and people are synonymous. Do your part to be inclusive and respectful of all differences and lead the way by encouraging others to do the same.

Avoid the office politicking game

Okay. We all know the type: in most offices there is at least one person that stirs the pot by complaining, gossiping, or whining. They just want attention, right? Yes it’s true, sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but that is not the best way to attract supervisory attention. The best tip here is to avoid the obvious; that person who enjoys bringing you into the discussion is a potential threat to your reputation simply by association. Encourage them to take their problem to someone who can really do something about the situation other than just listen (like you). 

Guard your reputation

Don’t get caught with your hand in the cookie jar, figuratively speaking. When getting along with coworkers is a priority, you will have to watch your back and protect yourself from others’ negative impressions. Do your job the best way possible. Don’t take questionable shortcuts. Avoid involvement in potentially explosive situations, such as romantic entanglements at your worksite or illicit activities using company property or equipment.

Make getting along with coworkers a priority

Getting along with others is vital to long-term success. Many organizations report the ability to be a team player (and by implication, get along with others) as one of the top qualities sought in new hires. Make sure you stay on the company’s A-list by learning how to appreciate others and step back from potential conflict. An occasional disagreement is fine when it invites different problem-solving perspectives, but someone who engages in habitual arguments (just to practice their debate skills) will soon ruin their reputation and eventually wear out their welcome. Getting along with coworkers is not difficult, but it does require effort and patience.