Overcoming Obstacles in the Workplace

May 16, 2009 by  

Do you work with these people?

“He wears me out. No matter what I position I take, he takes the opposite. Don’t get me wrong, I like honest disagreement, but he takes it too far”

“She blocks, obstructs, you name it, she’s in the way of progress. Ten of us agree and she’s the lone dissenter. I’d fire her, but she’s right more times than she’s wrong. ”

“She nods agreeably whatever the subject. I ask for her perspective and she responds with a ‘whatever you think, Jack.’ You name it and she doesn’t have an opinion on it. I don’t know how she goes through life without ever stating what she wants, needs, believes, or values.”

“He’s a back slapping, smiling, affable, whatever-you-think-I think -too, kind of guy. Everyone likes him and no one values him. He ducks responsibility, avoids challenge, and runs away from conflicts. He’s nice to have around. I just wish he made a contribution once in a while.”

If companies were flush with money, and had time to spare, there’d be room for laid back, get along people. Today’s work- place can’t afford the indifference that the all-too-accommodating communicate, and it won’t tolerate oppositional behavior that grinds progress to a halt.  Businesses that are successful over time, demonstrate a consistent commitment to quality, problem resolution, and growth creation through synergy: bringing together the best of all available thinking rather than settling for less, in the interest of peace and harmony.

Synergy requires that you think and instead of or. That’s easier said than done. Oppositional behaviors cause you to defend your thinking, sharpen your perspective, clarify your thought. Opposites deny your right to always be right and call into question your opinion as the only one that counts. Opposites can be hard to like and difficult to dismiss. And, whether at work or at home, they keep you on your toes, and, yes, that’s the point.

As challenging as they may be, opposites can work well together if they are respectful, principled, and share the same long- term goals. The obstacles lie in their approach to the interaction, not in the interaction itself.

To overcome barriers they’ll have to give each other space and time to make points and to listen, fully, without presumption, interruption, or prejudgment. They’ll have to look for ways to acknowledge and build upon each other’s ideas; to recognize the benefit that comes from seeing the same data differently.

It’s ironic, it’s personal, and it’s typical to be put off by co-workers who are your opposite, and to be attracted to opposite personalities in friends and lovers. You can enjoy their flamboyance if you see yourself as rather colorless. You can marvel at their willingness to risk, if you see yourself as conservative in your taste and hesitant in your preferences. You can delight in their extraversion if you see yourself as reticent and reserved. And you can thrill at the thought that they, as special as they are, see something in you that’s worthy of their attention and affection.

That is, until you sign on to spend your lives together. As soon as it looks like work, you act like you do at work. You see the wrongness of their ways, and try to make them into a copy of you. What was appealing becomes appalling. The flamboyance is embarrassing; the plainness, boring. The risk taking is dangerous; the conformist, outdated. The extraversion is noise personified; the introvert is silence, calcified.

Employees attend business seminars, read self- help books, and receive hours of coaching hoping to learn how to become more self aware and sensitive to the needs of others. They’ve come to believe (perhaps because they’ve been so often told), that if they were to understand themselves and each other, they could smooth the way to greater success, health, wealth, and happiness, now and into the future.

That appears to be a work in progress, so let’s cut to the chase: Stop competing to be smartest and judging each others opinions through the lens of your limited perspective.  Instead, learn how to combine your ideas to create something better, together, than either of you could possibly accomplish alone.


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