Working Well with Others


Jan. 1, 2024

I’ve heard it said that there are fundamentally two reasons why people lose jobs aside from factors beyond their control such as reductions in force, position obsolescence, organizations relocating, or mergers and acquisitions.


The first cause falls into the category of technical expertise. An individual simply lacks the ability to grasp the elements of the assignment. Even with further training and diligence on the employee’s part the task is something beyond that person’s level of mastery.


For me, I would be incapable of being a Firefighter, for example. I am too old, for one. Even in my younger days, I would not have been able to ascend a ladder four stories into a building or other structure without triggering my innate fear of heights. Although that has gotten better through the years, even a glass elevator scaling a skyscraper provokes instances of anxiety.


It is estimated that involuntary terminations for lack of ability represent about 15% of all job separations.


The balance of the remaining firings either directly or indirectly correspond to one underlying foundation: the inability to get along with others.


Thankfully this second cause doesn’t impact me. Or does it?


There was a time years ago when I was displeased with another member of our executive team. I shared my thoughts with someone who I believed to be a trusted confidant, except that it turned out he was not. He tattled to the subject of my ire. That affronted co-worker proceeded to confront me and ask if I had in fact made the disparaging remark. To that I confessed, was forgiven thankfully, and learned a valuable lesson. In the future I would learn better ways to handle those circumstances.


Did a parent used to tell you that “if you can’t say something nice to someone, just don’t say anything?” I have observed employees adopt passive aggression through withdrawing from work teams. They out and out clammed up. True, our co-workers do not have to become our best friends, but when someone completely “shuts down,” the tension becomes palpable to all.


On the other end of the spectrum are the gossips. I heard a co-worker once quip that “if it’s the truth, it’s not gossip.” Rotarians have adopted a “Four-Way Test” of the things we think, say, or do:


1. Is it the truth?

2. Is it fair to all concerned?

3. Will it build good will and better friendships?

4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?


My colleague, though passing the first step of the test, fell far short on the other three. Will Rogers provided a remedy. “Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip,” he said.


Social media has become another tension provoking mechanism. We all want to be heard and have others feel our pain and frustration. The ability to vent and release can be critical to our mental health and well-being. What happens when you have posted a news item or an opinion that might be disagreeable to a connection? What if they are someone you regularly collaborate with at work? Might a seed have been planted that is going to provoke a bit less trust or congeniality going forward?


The age old saying about ruining friendships by bringing up the subject of religion and politics has value. Humorist Dave Barry said, “People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them.” A better approach: model your beliefs and values humbly and selflessly through your actions and with kindness.


As we flip the calendar into another year, what are ways that we can avoid becoming a victim of the 85%?


1. Resolve to have connection with someone you may not know well. If you know them to come from a different background than you, all the better. When you dialogue, ask open-ended questions.

2. I talked with a client who clashed with their boss. In those instances, where might there be a commonality? Is there a similar interest? Maybe you’re both parents? Or children dealing with elderly parents?

3. Are you open to learning new things? Does someone else employ a different technique to their work or craft that just might be of benefit?

4. Can a co-worker benefit from your assistance? Just about all of us experience idle moments where our “pitching in” can go a long way towards building community. Don’t be so insecure that you’re always “too busy.”

5. What might you share with others? If you hunt, can you spare a bit of that venison jerky? If you’re a gardener, how about some home-grown vegetables?

6. Perhaps simplest of all, do you make it a point to greet your fellow employees at the start of a new day? What you’ll often find is that you’re the one that’s energized.


Best wishes on the beginning of what I hope will be for you a fantastic year!


The Seed Sower