10 Tips for Playing Well With Others at Work

You likely spend more time with your coworkers than with any other group. Play well.

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Who would you rather work with: a genius star performer who’s an incredible pain in the you-know-what or a “merely” competent worker who’s a breeze to get along with?

Your coworkers think so, too.

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Scary thought: You probably spend more hours of the day with your work colleagues than with any other group of human beings. And the great majority of the time you don’t even get to choose them. You all have different backgrounds, ages, and interests and yet you need to function well and smoothly with these people.

We live in a world where the ability to get things done as a team is more and more prized. You will be judged (and promoted) on how well you work with customers, colleagues, superiors, and those lower down on the corporate ladder. It’s one of the major keys to career success. While you probably learned in kindergarten how to play well with others, sometimes we lose track of the basics. So here are 10 useful tips:

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1. Heads up. When people talk to you, don’t continue tapping away at your keyboard. Instead, give the person the gift of your undivided attention, if only for a minute. It sounds like a small thing. But the art of truly paying attention is a dying art, and if you excel at it you will stand out.

2. Listen actively. Many people don’t express themselves well. You may need to look beneath the surface of their words to get to the core of what they’re trying to say. Be a little patient, and don’t interrupt, or jump on small mistakes.

3. Show (sincere) interest. You may not want to be BFFs with your cubicle mate but it won’t kill you to ask, “How was your weekend?” Listen for a couple of minutes, and then turn back to the work at hand. Now, was that so hard?

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4. Assume goodwill. Most people are sincerely trying to do a good job. So no matter how stupid or incompetent or misguided your colleagues’ actions might be, consider the possibility that they believed they were doing the right thing at the time. Try to look at the situation from their perspectives. You might learn something. At the very least, you’ll earn their gratitude.

5. Share credit. Even if a success was all your idea you will look like even more of a winner if you share the glory. Besides, does anybody really ever accomplish something entirely on their own?

6. Be open to the possibility that you might be wrong. Hey, it’s possible. At least accept that there’s room for improvement. Your ideas and work will benefit from the input of others. Really.

7. Honor your commitments. Be the kind of person who says he’ll have the report done by Tuesday and has it done by Tuesday. Reliability and integrity not only make you look good, they’re contagious and will contribute to a constructive work environment.

8. Show appreciation. Even though it may be someone’s job to supply you with, say, paper clips, when that person delivers the paper clips, say “thank you.” It costs you nothing, and it fosters an atmosphere of civility.

9. Speak to others in a clear, direct, respectful, pleasant, and positive way. It inspires your coworkers to treat you likewise.

10. Finally, don’t expect to like everybody. And don’t expect everybody to like you. As with any group of people, you’re going to get along with some better than others, and there may be a few you just can’t stand. Be tolerant. Pick your battles. Sometimes it’s just enough that the work gets done.

Karen Burns is the author of the illustrated career advice book The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use, recently released by Running Press. She blogs at www.karenburnsworkinggirl.com.

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