“I don’t understand the desire to push sweet potato fries on me. I just want regular fries.” – Jim, The Office
The show, The Office gave us many laughs as we watched the workplace antics of Michael, Pam, Dwight, and Jim. In one episode, Jim is frustrated with an insistent waiter who is assuming that he wants sweet potato fries, the healthier option to what he really wants: Plain ol’ fries.
The waiter thought he knew what Jim wanted based upon his own experiences with other customers and what he thinks is best for Jim. We sometimes do that at work as well. We assume we know our colleagues’ preferences for working, or even worse, expect them to manage work the way we do. What happens? Both parties get aggravated and conflict can ensue.
The bottom line is that all of us have unique work styles based upon our own preferences. Yes, this isn’t new information and I suspect that most of you reading this probably have participated in some workshops where you learned about you leadership or communication ‘style.’ More times than not, it’s these preferences–and our different preferences– that aggravate us most about our coworkers. The reality is that we can’t force how others choose to communicate, interact with others, or how they decide to manage tasks. What we can do is reframe our thinking about our coworkers when we get frustrated with them.
Tasks: Do you have everything organized in color-coded binders in your office or do you have piles of books and paperwork? Me? I use the pile method complemented with color-coded Post-It Notes to organize my work. Each of these approaches are fine, as long as it works for the individual managing the tasks. What sometimes causes tension is when someone forces her task management approach on others who choose a different method.
Reframe: Ask yourself if your coworker is managing the tasks assigned to him. If so, don’t worry about how it is getting completed and recognize that both of you have different ways of approaching the work.
Work Relationships: “He get’s so wrapped up in what’s going on in the office.” “She’s always on her own-never involves anyone.” Sound familiar? Tensions among coworkers can arise when we are uncomfortable with the extent in which others choose–or choose not to– develop work relationships.
Reframe: Recognize that each coworker values the relationships at work in different ways. Only be concerned if behaviors are not conducive to a productive work environment or if relationships are truly suffering because of one’s behavior.
Interactions: You’ve probably described some coworkers as being ‘outgoing’ or ‘a bit shy.’ All of us interact with others and the world around us in various ways. Some of us gain satisfaction and positive energy from interactions with others (extroverts) while others’ energies are tapped out from such experiences because we prefer to be more reflective and focused on our own mental activities (introverts). The conflict that can arise is when an introvert is perhaps disregarded as not being engaged with others at work or when the extrovert is accused of being too pushy.
Reframe: Before making an assumption about a colleague’s level of interest in an activity, ask him if he’s interested and if there is an alternate way to participate that is more comfortable. Also, recognize that an individual’s desire to focus on sharing her thoughts and ideas is an opportunity to learn more about her concerns or interests.
Communication: Do you focus your communications on ensuring that others know what you’re thinking and why? Or do you prefer to listen and receive the information that others provide? Email or phone? Face-to-face or text? I’m one of those people that prefers anything that creates a paper trail. Each of us share and receive information in different ways and have varying preferences for the mediums we use to communicate. Because of this, many organizational conflicts and misunderstandings stem from communication.
Reframe: Ascertain the best way to communicate with a person instead of doing what is comfortable for you. For example, find out if he prefers to meet in person or if an email is sufficient. Also, if you are more extroverted in nature, you may be inclined to do a lot of talking, so try to listen more. Conversely, an introvert might be more comfortable listening, so speaking up more and expressing your thoughts may be an approach to take.
The next time a coworker wants more time to think about a proposal before making a decision or chooses not to attend a social work function, respect his choices and avoid a potential conflict. Reframe the way you think about him, understand your unique individual preferences, and please, don’t force the sweet potato fries on him.
Tricia S. Nolfi is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.