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Do you have a co-worker that frustrates the h*** out of you?

In To Kill a Mockingbird Atticus tells Scout: "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." Keep that quote in mind.

I was talking with a friend of mine the other day and she was lamenting about having a co-worker who just didn't get it. This particular co-worker could not grasp my friend's expectations of her, and this lead to conflict after conflict. My friend had tried many interventions, most of which were focused on training the co-worker in her expectations. "See, this is how this task should be done..." and so on. A perfectly reasonable response. But, unfortunately, one that did not improve the situation.

One problem when dealing with others is that we make incorrect assumptions about others' behavior. My friend had made the assumption that if the co-worker failed to meet expectations, it was because she didn't understand the expectations. Why did my friend make this assumption? Because, my friend thought, if I were in her shoes, that would be the reason why I would make similar mistakes. Again, perfectly reasonable.

If you truly want to understand someone else's perspective, you have to do more than to place yourself in their situation. Putting yourself in the scenario promotes egotism ("If I were in their shoes I would understand..."). You have to disengage from yourself, your beliefs, your biases, and seek to understand their world. This promotes empathy, the goal in Atticus' guidance to his daughter.

For my friend I suggested:

  • Ask: "How are you enjoying you job?"

  • Ask: "How are you doing outside of work?"

  • Ask: "How am I doing as your co-worker?"

  • Ask: "What can I do better to help you?"

  • Ask: "If you could change one thing about our company, what would it be?"

These questions not only provide insight about this specific conflict, but help to solidify the relationship so that both people have a better understanding of who the other person is.

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