Before founding my own company, I had my share of odd jobs. At age 16, I worked part-time at Six Flags Over Texas. During college and graduate school, I added these to my resumé: salesclerk, secretary, seamstress, reporter, and teacher. All of these positions gave me an eye-opening experience into what people communicated to their coworkers—and what didn’t work at work!
When you’re a teenage part-timer or young twenty-something who’ll be moving on shortly, people tend to ignore you. But to quote Yogi Berra: “You can see a lot by just looking.” And I did see and hear a lot of things that irritate coworkers.
How do I know? I grew up and became a company owner. Different people were making the same mistakes—and coming to me to referee.
Mistakes like these:
Parents often say, “I can complain about my kids, but I don’t want to hear anyone else do it.” They often feel the same protective pride about their job. Constant chatter about how much better things worked at your former organization don’t fall on welcome ears. Just offer any ideas as your own: “Have you tried X? That has worked well for me in the past.”
Some people find it far too easy to get their feelings hurt. They lack confidence in their abilities and think their boss—or another colleague—is “out to get them” or “unhappy with them” for some perceived wrong. If you’re fretting over such issues, talk to a real counselor or coach—not a colleague.
That’s especially good advice if you have deeper issues to deal with, and those situations affect how and when you do your job. As a 19-year-old part-timer working my way through college at Sears, a coworker in her mid-fifties found herself frequently upset when her husband’s lover called her on the job to taunt her about giving the husband a divorce. Needless to say, all of us who worked with Nita felt sorry for her having to deal with the threatening calls. (That was back in the day before caller ID and Nita could have just refused to answer.)
Some days, Nita could “pull it together” and continue her work. Other days, she just had to “talk it out.” We coworkers became the listeners—unfortunately, often along with the customers.
If you find yourself in either of these situations—“hurt feelings” or in a truly unfortunate circumstance—get professional counseling.
Janet, the journalist, proved to be the highly competent grump around our consulting office. If I let people off early on a Friday afternoon, she wished it had been the previous weekend. THAT was when she had out-of-town travel plans. If we ordered pizza for a group working lunch, she preferred deli sandwiches. If the staff meeting was scheduled for 10:00 on Wednesday, that was exactly the worst time. She was hoping for Thursday at 4:00. Systems, policies, tasks—nothing pleased her.
When she left, a coworker remarked, “Janet was a great friend. But I’ll have to admit, with her gone, the whole atmosphere around here has changed!”
Sooner or later, no matter how valuable your contribution or how great your skills, your coworkers will come to hate your grumbling.
Amy’s enthusiasm and personality could light up a room and engage a crowd. In fact, she often did the moment she walked in the door and opened her mouth. “Whoa, the traffic out there was horrible this morning. This guy nearly ran me off the road. About two miles from my house, he ….” And the tale continued for another 10 minutes.
At least once a week, she was involved in a traumatic event: Her garage door locked in the down position and she couldn’t get her car out. Her computer crashed. She lost her house keys and had to spend the night with a friend—with no way to do hair and make-up the next morning. The server swallowed the marketing materials. An horrendous virus invaded her body. Her uncle whom she hadn’t seen in a million years phoned to say he was in town unexpectedly and wanted to see her for the day.
Although the stories sometimes elicited shock, surprise, or sympathy, what didn’t happen? Work. Results.
After a few months, the entertainment value died down. Instead, coworkers rolled their eyes at the drama and resented having to pick up the slack.
If any of these habits might be happening around your workplace, consider how much coworkers love hearing about it—or not.
Learn more ways to improve communication with leaders and coworkers in Communicate With Confidence!: How to Say It Right the First Time and Every Time.