Management & leadership, Personal development, Self-improvement

The Pleasure and the Pain

You can choose your friends... but not your colleagues. Debra Allcock Tyler, DSC CEO and author of The Pleasure and the Pain explores how we can be the best version of ourselves at work.

I wrote the book The Pleasure and the Pain back in 2007 because I realised that although there were loads of books out there teaching you how to be a better manager or leader or CEO, there was very little on how to be a great colleague or employee. There’s just sort of a general assumption that all the work on your performance is about what your manager does or doesn’t do – but very little about your own agency.

Getting along with your colleagues is important

Studies over time have shown that relationships with colleagues is a major driver of people’s happiness or satisfaction at work. If you’re working alongside a group of folk who are great fun, supportive and enthusiastic it makes work not just so much better but also, somehow, easier. Particularly when the work is highly stressful or emotionally draining which it so often is in the voluntary sector. The thing is that so often we forget that we ourselves are a major part of what makes the team ‘sing’.

How would you describe yourself?

There’s that old saying that in any group there is always someone who is the bore and that if you don’t know who the bore is in your group it’s probably you. In that old adage is an element of real truth about self-awareness. If anyone asked us about how we show up at work, we’d probably say that we’re not perfect – but we would be very unlikely to say that we’re the grumpy one, or the difficult one or the negative one. We label it differently when thinking about ourselves. We’re not grumpy we’re just working with incompetent people; we’re not difficult we just have very high standards; we’re not negative we just see things for how they are.

And yet that may well not be how others would describe us or experience us in the team. It’s part of the problem with focussing on being ‘self’ aware. We can only really have a good sense of ourselves if we understand how others see us. So really, to work well with others, we would do better to become ‘other’ aware – think about how what seems perfectly reasonable to us might come across to others in our team. It’s about asking ourselves do people cheer up when we enter a room – or when we leave it?

How would your colleagues describe you?

Are you someone they would turn to if they were in difficulty? Do they think that you’re someone who criticises them behind their backs or complains about them to the manager – or do they consider you to be someone they completely trust? Who they could and would turn to for help and support. Are you someone who is always cynical about managers and the organisation; negative and suspicious about new initiatives; uncooperative in implementing change? Or are you someone who is seen as a problem solver? Willing to give it a go?

I don’t think it’s really about how being the perfect colleague – but more about endeavouring to be the best version of ourselves. Thinking about how we would like our colleagues to describe us to their families and friends and being that person. And if we know that we’re having a bad day and that the worst version of ourselves is manifesting – then being honest with colleagues and saying so.

Then there’s the issue of motivation

When I first started out I thought it was the job of my manager to motivate me – but then I realised that actually it was never really my manager who motivated me but myself. She could make me feel good by saying I’d done a good job or by making me feel valued sure, but what really made me feel good was knowing myself that I’d done a good job and having that recognised not so much by my managers but by my colleagues. There’s something so motivating about your colleagues asking you for advice or support – or saying something in admiration about how good a job you’ve done at something.

On a final and really important note do remember that there will always be people who don’t like you for whatever reason – I wouldn’t stress too much about that other than to be clear that their dislike is entirely about them and not because you’ve made their lives harder. But ultimately it’s about behaving in a way that has your colleagues describe working with you as a pleasure not a pain.

Get your own copy of The Pleasure and the Pain by Debra Allcock Tyler here.