Q. Most people in my workplace definitely don't play well with others. I am so tired of doing all the work to keep people on track. I'd like to let people deal with the consequences of their bad behavior. Where at work does it make sense to help people and where does it make sense to let them just suffer?
A. Many of the people I counsel come to me upset at their coworkers' glaring inability to play well with others. My clients have spent a lot of time mad at other people's lack of skills.
The workplace is a lot like tennis. If you don't help your opponent at least get the ball back over the net some of the time, the game isn't any fun to play. You want to help people at work when you can see that the game will be over if you don't.
Let's say your coworker is permanently grumpy. You and he are working on a project. He glares at you while pointing out that you never got the numbers he needed for a report. You could glare back. You could ignore him. You could also say calmly, "Sounds like you wanted something from me but didn't have a chance to let me know?"
If you can "reframe" a snarky comment, criticism or hostile remark as an attempt to get help, you made your coworker look better than he is. You also gently just trained him to ask for what he needs on the front end rather than blowing up and looking like a jerk on the back end.
Most people in their better moments wish they could play well with others. Most people also have spent zero time getting any education, tools or coaching in how to play well. Consider how shocking it is that most of us have had no training in the only skill we all have to use to succeed at work.
Consequently, you will always be surrounded by people who actually believe that pouting, ranting or attacking are suitable interpersonal techniques. You can slam a ball down the throat of anyone you work with in the game of work, but I doubt they will ever volunteer to do anything that helps you. In fact, most people you've played with in this way will probably go out of their way to undermine you.
The only long-term solution for you to win at work is to make sure other people win when you win. Helping others do well at work is the most selfish strategy you can use and the only one that creates consistent rewards for you.
When you don't want to help others is when they are using you to get their work done. Your best strategy in these circumstances is to offer to ask your boss to reassign work projects. Your coworker will stop dropping the ball on your desk because he or she is about to look bad to your boss.
If you can coach people around you to keep hitting the ball over the net, you give yourself the chance to win most matches. If people around you can't keep a volley going, you won't even get on the court to play.
Q. I've worked hard to win acceptance in my workplace. People tell me I care too much about what people think. Can't you be effective and still care what people think about you?
A. No, effective people know their self-esteem is a dictatorship, not a democracy.
(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at http://www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)