The Secret to Becoming Everyone's Favorite Coworker
Work + Life Balance

The Secret to Becoming Everyone's Favorite Coworker

by Abby Roskind
April 11, 2016

YOU KNOW YOU'RE A GREAT WORKER AND MAYBE EVEN A GREAT MANAGER. BUT HOW'S YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR PEERS?

The laundry list of “qualifications” in a job posting nowadays ranges from the mundane, to the bizarre, to the squeal-inducing that comes with knowing you are that candidate. For example, you often see:

Candidates must have:

  • 2+ years of experience in related field
  • effective and persuasive communication skills
  • a strong interest in pre-mammalian mating habits
  • team player mentality 

Do you somehow feel as if your interest in that odd biology mention is stronger than your understanding of what "team player mentality" actually is? Yeah...

What is the big deal with teams? And by definition, if you’re a part of the team, haven’t you, kind of, done your part already? Unfortunately, there's a little more to it than that.  You are continually negotiating your space, time, and ideas at your job—and your coworkers are a key part of determining your success. You definitely want those people on your side—and that means being the best possible team player you can be.

Here are some of our best tips. Because fitting in at the office means standing out. 

1. LISTEN ACTIVELY

You have to listen to be heard. But just listening isn’t enough; you have to actively listen. Meaning, you shouldn’t interrupt, disagree, or judge what the other person is saying while they’re talking. Instead, you should be acknowledging them through nods or simple verbal cues such as “yes” and “ok.” When appropriate, you should rephrase what they’re saying in your own words so they understand your listening and absorbing. At the end of their explanation, ask questions to show that you were paying close attention.

If problem-solving within your team truly feels like an open, community-based effort, then every team member will feel like they have some skin in the game. 

Listening is a pretty basic skill, but sometimes listening gets confused with waiting for the other person to stop talking. We’ve all been there—particularly when you knew you had a good point to make. But when people are just waiting for the perfect opportunity to jump in and contribute their own thoughts, so much is being missed. When you’re paying attention to the voice in your head, you can’t possibly be hearing the other person out. Wires get crossed, signals never connect, cues are missed. 

2. EMPATHIZE 

Really try to see things from their perspective. It’s important to understand how your team members operate. Are they most comfortable under strict deadlines? Do they not fair well interacting with others in the morning? This doesn’t mean you need to pry into every detail of their lives, but just be open to understanding them holistically, as a human, rather than as an employee or manager.

3. SHARE OPENLY

Be forthcoming about your ideas and solutions. If you can lay everything out on the table, everyone has a better chance of putting the jigsaw together properly. Your team will also trust you more because they won’t feel as though you’re safeguarding some ace-in-the-hole solution to save yourself, if need be. If problem-solving within your team truly feels like an open, community-based effort, then every team member will feel like they have some skin in the game. Along the same lines…

4. MEASURE YOUR WORDS

Not in the sense that you always have to watch your back, but rather communicate in a way that will elicit positive responses. It’s not always the content of the message so much as the way it’s delivered. {click to tweet} There’s a big different between saying “You need to get this done,” and “This is priority #1. Can you spend some time rethinking the options?”

The majority of your time won’t be spent in the new and exciting beginning stages, or in the ecstatic moments of achievement.

5. EXTEND YOURSELF

Without getting walked on. Going back to empathizing with your colleagues, offer to help someone when they seem like they need it. This is where you can really use your astute emotional intelligence, because you don’t want to seem like you’re undermining them or micromanaging. Look for signals of stress and tread lightly. A simple, “Everything going ok? Is there anything I can help with?” can be a blessing. Voicing solidarity through rough times may be all that’s needed. 

6. STEP UP

If you see something that needs to be done, take command and get it done. {click to tweet} Not only does it set a great precedent—you’re ensuring that nothing will slip past your team (not even the unexciting details)—but it also makes everyone look very professional. Even if you can’t personally address the situation, draw people’s attention to it. And whenever possible, try to get involved in handling the things you identify. After all, your coworkers will have a hard time respecting someone who only points out things they missed without you ever lifting a hand to help, and honestly? You’ll learn something from every task you tackle.

7. STOP THE GOSSIP MILL

While you can’t completely control this, you can stop the thread when it reaches you. This may mean avoiding negative discussions about your coworker, particularly when they’re not present, or it could mean avoiding deeply personal topics that a coworker hasn’t already broached with the group. It’s easy to spot when conversation strays towards more “gossipy” subjects. Every situation is different, but one thing remains constant: everyone wants to feel confident and comfortable in their work environment. Skip it.

You shouldn’t interrupt, disagree, or judge what the other person is saying while they’re talking.

8. MAKE AN EFFORT

To get to know someone outside the work environment, even the people you might not click with in the office. Even if you hate karaoke, one night with the team won’t destroy your social life or even your week. Keep thy friends close, and thy enemies closer, right? No, but in all seriousness, finding out about what someone does in their free time, what they care about, what keeps their clock ticking, is humanizing. You probably have some things in common… who knows, your frenemy at work might even be your new lunch buddy. Stranger things have happened. 

9. ENCOURAGE DISCORD

Perhaps this seems counterintuitive, but the most successful teams and companies have a culture that challenges the status quo. You can elicit the best out of your team by encouraging dissent. {click to tweet} In the book Originals, Adam Grant states, “A culture that focuses too heavily on solutions becomes a culture of advocacy, dampening inquiry. If you’re always expected to have an answer ready, you’ll arrive at meetings with your diagnosis complete, missing out on the chance to learn form a broad range of perspectives.” Again, be open to hearing from all different voices. 

10. ENJOY THE PROCESS

Easier said than done, right? Not only is this important for being a good team member, but also for your general well-being and happiness. The majority of your time won’t be spent in the new and exciting beginning stages, or in the ecstatic moments of achievement. It will be spent grinding out the details, working through mountains of data or paperwork, and transforming your initial thoughts into the final product. And as we all know, things rarely progress in a strictly linear fashion. Understanding that there will be disagreements, setbacks, and detours opens your team up to possibilities and ultimately, success. So it’s crucial you and your team have the mindset of getting after it, together, for better or worse. Embracing the nitty gritty often alleviates the pressure to perform.

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How do you contribute to the team? What's your most important asset in being a team player?