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What's more important: knowledge, work habits or the way we interact with others?

Posted Tuesday, May 18, 2010, at 10:39 AM

What's more important: knowledge, work habits or the way we interact with others?

Recently, one of my clients was creating a project team. Several people volunteered, yet when they found out that Ms. So and So was going to be part of it, they quickly retracted their offers. The project hadn't even started, yet they were already jumping ship at the mere thought of having to work with Ms. So and So.

Here's the weird part: The person nobody wanted to work with was highly regarded for her knowledge of the subject, and she was generally known as a hard worker. What's more, most of the team believed she probably wanted the best for the organization as a whole.

She was smart, she wanted to help and she had a good work ethic. So why didn't anyone want to work with her?

Because her personality was so negative that she sucked the life out of people. With everyone already overworked to the max, they quickly decided that they weren't willing to muster up the extra emotional energy needed to deal with her.

What's sad is that I doubt she has any idea how she's coming across. She probably thought all her criticisms and negative commentary were actually helpful.

Negative people rarely recognize just how challenging they make it for everyone else. However, seasoned managers quickly learn that the extra effort you have to expend managing a complainer just isn't worth it.

It doesn't matter whether it's the Fortune 500 or the PTA. A negative attitude will overshadow a high IQ, a strong desire to serve and even a great work ethic.

Ironic, isn't it? We place so much emphasis on knowledge and work habits, yet the thing that often derails people is their interpersonal skills.

What's even more ironic is that unless you're a speech, drama or broadcast major, you can go all the way through college without ever getting any meaningful feedback on how you're being perceived by others.

The challenge with over-the-top negativity is two-fold. First, the offender is usually so interpersonally unskilled he or she doesn't recognize the problem. Numerous studies reveal that competent people tend to rate themselves much more harshly than incompetent people because a person's incompetence literally blinds them to their own incompetence. (You're entitled to a self-satisfied chortle here.)

But the second challenge is that no one calls them on it because we often assume that they're doing it on purpose and that they like being a project killer.

So the smart, on-time-with-their-work-yet-emotionally-clueless person continues to over-complain (or needle people about inconsequential issues, or whine, or make negative assumptions, etc.), oblivious to the fact that the rest of the team is deflating by the moment.

The solution is simple: Get some training. We don't expect people to learn chemistry without a teacher; why should we expect people to instinctively know how to create positive interactions?

Don't get me wrong: You don't have to ooze charisma or become a Pollyanna. People are just fine working with shy, quiet people, and nobody expects a non-stop cheerleader.

But if every comment you make is negative or critical, you're probably detracting from the group more than you're adding to it. Your knowledge may be valuable, but if you consistently serve it up with a scowl, nobody is going to want to hear it.

Bottom line: Learning how to evoke positive feelings in others isn't cutesy; it's critical.



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Angst is in the air: Be careful it's catching
Lisa Earle McLeod
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I can't take any more. The economy is tanking, the election is endless, and now it looks like I might have to sell my blood if I want to keep my kids in mac 'n cheese. Oh, and did I mention that, thanks to falling house prices, I probably owe more on my home than it's actually worth? I want to go back to bed, pull the covers over my head and have somebody wake me up when my 401(k) bounces back. I don't know about you, but I'm finding myself so jittery about, well everything, that it's all I can do to surf the net. Kind of ironic, isn't it? I should be working more, but I'm so anxious about my finances that I'm actually working less. Alas, such is the world of grown-ups - stress, anxiety, depression. And to think that I wasted much of my childhood wishing I could be in charge of my own life. Why in the heck did I ever think that was a good idea? Give me a few cookies, a blankey and a nice place to lie down and I swear I'll never complain about an early bedtime again. These are tough times indeed. Even if you're still OK, you'd have to be one cold, hard, rich person to stay immune to all the angst in the air. So how do you cope? How do you get through today when you're so worried about tomorrow that you can't see straight? I overheard a news commentator say that people are thinking twice before they go out to eat or buy new clothes. I'm guessing that those are the people who still have jobs. Because the people without jobs aren't spending a nickel on anything except cheap carbs and keeping a roof over their heads. Yet as depressing as our collective and individual situations may be, the last thing we need to do is let our fear get the best of us. If you spend all day quaking and anxious, guess who wins? The fear. Yes, I know FDR had a roof over his head when he said "we have nothing to fear but fear itself," but he was right. Every moment you waste paralyzed with fear is a moment you could be doing something, or resting up so that you can do something tomorrow. It's been said that there are only two emotions, love and fear, and all the other emotions are derivatives of those. So I'd like to make a suggestion. Let's chose love. Let's decide to love each other and to love ourselves, no matter what happens. And if you're really a Pollyanna, perhaps you'll join me in deciding to love the fact that this crisis is serving as a call for us to become our better selves; a call for us to look within and rid ourselves of consumerism, greed and the need to keep up with the Jones; and a call for us to have more empathy for those who are struggling. Maybe this is a chance for all of us - and I include myself - to decide that we love our country and we love our fellow human beings more than we love our stuff. Yeah, I know it sounds hokey. But you don't change your circumstances until you change the thoughts that created them. Cowering under the covers in fear may feel safer. But in a crisis, the truly powerful response is love. (c) Copyright 2008, by Lisa Earle McLeod. All rights reserved. Lisa Earle McLeod is a keynote speaker, author and nationally syndicated columnist. Her books include "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear." Contact her at www.ForgetPerfect.com.