It is said that if you enjoy your job, you don’t have to work a day in your life. And given that we spend one-quarter to one-third of our waking lives at work, we better enjoy it.
When I speak with people about their work life, one theme is constant: Their co-workers, not the work itself, create more frustration than anything else. Studies repeatedly show that people do not quit their companies, they quit their manager. I would add that people also quit because of their co-workers and the overall work environment.
Why do we simply tolerate people instead of doing what’s necessary to make things better? The answer is simple: fear. Fear of their reaction. Fear of not knowing what to say. Fear of damaging the relationship. Fear of conflict. Fear that confrontation will just make things worse.
Cultivating strong relationships takes time, energy, and effort. I remember my first job just out of college. My supervisor liked to “hover.” This drove me crazy! One day, he actually told me that the margins on the document that I was working on were too wide.
I went home every day and complained about him to my wife. It wasn’t that I didn’t like his management style. I globalized my dislike to him personally. One day, I couldn’t take it anymore. I stood up to him and told him that I felt pressured by him and that his behaviors were creating stress for me and subsequently, leading to lower quality.
To my surprise, he had no idea how he was impacting me. It took him a while to change his behaviors, but after a while, his behaviors changed and I actually liked working with him. Now, twenty years later, we are still friends.
Friends or co-workers or both?
It takes emotional courage to stand up to a teammate who exhibits behaviors that push your buttons. There is, however, one strategy that makes that process a little easier. It’s so simple, it’s hard to believe that it works nearly every time and takes away the defensiveness that often stops us from approaching the person in the first place.
Here it is: Initiate the interaction by asking permission to give them feedback. Take this scenario as an example: Sandy is approaching Peter to tell him that he’s doing something that drives her crazy.
Approach #1: Sandy begins by saying, “Peter, I’d like to give you some feedback.”
How would you feel if someone said that to you? Can you feel the defensiveness beginning to take hold? Would your stress level just heightened just a bit? If so, you’re like most people.
Approach #2: Sandy begins by saying, “Peter, I have something that’s been bothering me and I’d like to talk with you about it. Is that OK?”
How would you feel if someone approached you in that way? Would you be more receptive? Once again, if you’re like most people, the answer would be, “Yes.”
Cultivating strong relationships
People tend to deal with situations when the pain of tolerating the current situation outweighs the pain of dealing with the situation. For me, I was so frustrated with the micromanaging behaviors of my boss that I couldn’t take it anymore. I recall turning to my wife and saying, “If he fires me for telling him that he’s stressing me out, that would be better than putting up with him every day.”
Looking back, I laugh at the ridiculousness of his expected reaction. However, that perspective comes with time and distance. When we have to deal with people who regularly push our buttons, but the pain is bearable, we tend to do nothing.
Katzenbach and Smith in their classic book, The Wisdom of Teams, stated that high-performance teams have “members who are deeply committed to one another’s personal growth and success.”
One could imagine that members of high-performance teams do not tolerate their fellow team members. They take steps to build strong relationships and in the process, everyone wins.
Trust and friendship do not come easy, but when people put in the effort, they will no longer have to put up with frustration.
Is there someone on your team that pushes your buttons? Maybe today would be the perfect time to ask them if you can give them some feedback.