5 small things you can change about yourself that no one will notice but will make people like you more
Even the best of jobs (Mattress tester! Video game tester! Chocolate tester! Isn’t it funny that the best jobs that come to mind often depend on critiquing other people’s work?) can feel like the worst if you’re not working with the right kind of people.
Take being an astronaut, for example. It’s hard to think of something cooler than the ability to walk in space or see 16 sunrises and sunsets in a day.
But the truth is, even barrelling around the earth at 17,150 miles per hour can get to be a drag if you don’t have the right kind of teammates. In his book, ‘An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth’, Chris Hadfield talks about how he’s heard rumors of fistfights and refusals to speak to each other (and the ground) for days on end.
“That’s why these days, NASA also looks for “people who can be locked in a tin can for six months and excel”, rather than just the smartest minds.”
Are you a good colleague?
Modern offices these days don’t have a lot of situations that involve being locked in a tin can but the same principle still holds: how you collaborate as a team matters.
There are two straightforward questions that can help you figure out if you’re a good teammate:
- Can your teammates take risks without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
- Can you count on them (and they you) to do high quality work on time?
If the answer isn’t a resounding “yes!” for either of those questions, you’re probably not the best colleague to be around.
There there. I’ll give you a moment to collect yourself.
I drew these questions from Google’s research into the key dynamics of a successful Google team. Google’s PeopleOps team conducted 250+ interviews and studied over 150 teams to identify 5 key dynamics. To summarise, the people on the team don’t matter so much as how the team members interact, structure their work or view their contributions.
Two of the five key dynamics depend on the teammates’ interpersonal skills so really, the effectiveness of your team depends on how you answered those questions. You can, of course, posit that there might be more pressing and immediate problems that you need to focus on but really, the path to becoming a better teammate doesn’t involve sweeping makeover montages or drastic personality changes or thinly veiled attempts to buy people’s affections with food. It’s all about small, subtle adjustments you make in your everyday life to put your team at ease and win their affections.
Without further ado, behold our listicle!
Encourage people to speak up and participate
In my first couple of months in an office, I remember volunteering the adage “There are no bad ideas” during a conversation and getting dressed down by my manager for it. He stopped the discussion to talk about how there are bad ideas and people should really think about voicing them out loud (for example, the adage I had just voiced). This scarred me for a couple of years and I always hesitated to voice my ideas in a meeting. I would always vet my ideas with a couple of people, preferably before a meeting, before presenting them. If it weren’t for encouraging teammates, I might have never overcome this…fear and begun to participate in discussions and brainstorming sessions.
I’ve heard many similar stories – of people hesitating to share their ideas out of fear of ridicule and judgement (I know I never said “There are no bad ideas” in a brainstorming session again for many years). This is a real shame because companies run on good ideas and good ideas can come from anywhere.
So, step one to being a good colleague is creating a safe space for your teammates and encouraging them to speak up and participate. It isn’t enough if you just ask them to contribute in a meeting and then end up tuning them out. Too often, people confuse listening with hearing. You hear your dog bark but you actively listen to the people talking to you and pay attention to the ideas they’re sharing. The point is to not just get them to share but also to make them feel heard and valued.
Just the mere act of listening will get you brownie points, even if their idea, in the end, adds no value to the discussion.
There’s also an additional gender aspect to this point – research shows us that men get credit for voicing ideas (and not problems) while women do not get credit for either. So, it’s more important than ever that you give weight to what they have to say when they do speak up.
“[And] Given that women are interrupted more often than men are when speaking up in groups, we suggest managers be vigilant about ensuring that equal respect is shown to women when they are voicing their ideas. After all, one interpretation of this study is that women, even when they speak up and “lean in,” still may not get equal credit for doing so. And if that is the case, then it is essential not only for women to speak up but also for those around them to give equal weight to what they say.”
Vocalise and celebrate success
Accomplishing something awesome is a pretty great feeling but I’d be lying if I said some of its sweetness doesn’t come from the appreciation you receive from the people around you. The simple act of saying well done or even clapping for someone at a meeting can help teammates feel more confident about themselves, build their identity and a bond of solidarity.
The takeaway? Big or small, take time out to celebrate your teammates’ wins. Some teams do it in their stand ups, some people write notes, some people go all out and do walls of fame, some bake cakes, some give out gifts – the important part is that you call out the accomplishment and vocalise your appreciation.
Speak up when you see fairness
“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies but a great deal more to stand up to your friends” – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
This didn’t just win Gryffindor the 10 points they needed to win the House Cup but also became an inspiring ideal for millions of people everywhere. Standing up for what you believe in, especially on behalf of your teammates even when it has nothing to do with you, will earn you their admiration and regard. Even if it doesn’t change anything, the act of speaking up will help the people around you question the status quo and start making changes organically.
Spread good cheer, not gossip
To me, a toxic environment involves big issues like sexual harassment, bullying and misogyny and not something like gossip. Everyone gossips, right? I mean it’s an evolutionary tactic that helped humans bond and get ahead to where we are on the food chain (thanks, Yuval Noah Harari!).
Our language evolved as a way of gossiping. [According to this theory,] Homo sapiens is primarily a social animal. Social cooperation is our key for survival and reproduction. It is not enough for individual men and women to know the whereabouts of lions and bison. It’s much more important for them to know who in their band hates whom, who is sleeping with whom, who is honest and who is a cheat.
However, modern workplaces are less about fighting for survival against nature and more about working together to achieve a goal. There’s still some merit in benign gossip that helps people bond (“Aishwarya also likes pineapple on pizza!”) but I think it’s safe to say that the insidious stuff (“Aishwarya likes pineapple on pizza because her manager likes pineapple on pizza and she wants to suck up”) will just come back to bite you in the butt one way or another. So before you roll out this Sapiens quote to justify why you’re huddled around the water cooler, just remember that when you start talking about things you wouldn’t tell the subject, you become a part of the problem.
Do your part to make your workplace better
This is one of those catchall type of points because there are so many different things you can do to make your workplace better for your team and this is obviously specific to your team. Keeping your desk organized and clean, picking up after yourself at team meetings, respecting people’s schedules by scheduling meetings during core working hours (when you’re at the office i.e) or hesitating to call them up unless it’s absolutely necessary and so on.
If you’re trying to figure out where to start, maybe just make a list of traits that make your teammates a pleasure to work with, and go from there.
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