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How to Be a Better Coworker

For many of us, we spend at least 40 hours each week with our coworkers. Are they enjoying that time spent with you?

Man in an office smiling with a Post-It Note stuck on his forehead
Sam Woolfe

Sam Woolfe

I'm a freelance writer who is interested in mindfulness, mental health and the evolving concept of masculinity.

When deciding to take on a new role, the people you work with are often just as important as the job itself. Working with shitty coworkers can be a nightmare; making you dread coming into work, leave you with your blood boiling in the day, desperately waiting for it to end.

It’s a nightmare scenario because you would never otherwise spend time with this shitty person outside of the work environment. In the office, though, different rules apply. You have to pretend to get along and keep things civil.

But why not make things easier for everyone? While you may not think of yourself as ‘that guy’ who irritates everyone in the office, you may still do shitty things – or be ‘that guy’ from time to time.

So here are some tips on those awful habits and behaviors that you should be conscious of – not just so you can avoid engaging in them yourself, but so you can call them out when you notice them in others as well.

Don’t Dominate Conversations

Maybe you tend to talk over people in general or you think that performing well in your job means making your voice louder and more dominant than everyone else’s. But honestly, it is not going to get people to enjoy your company – it’s just going to make people restless and want to get away from you as soon as possible. Listening attentively to others is a crucial part of forming good relationships with others.

There’s a time and a place for showing assertiveness in your job. You obviously want to use opportunities to get your point across and to show what knowledge and insight you have to offer. However, when you dominate a conversation, it’s an ego move; it’s your way of telling people that your opinion matters more than theirs. It does not encourage cooperation. It kills it.

When you’re in the office you may also be tempted to impress others by one-upping them. But being boastful in this way can seriously backfire, making your co-workers thinking you’re arrogant - not super-interesting. If a coworker is telling you about a recent holiday, don’t immediately respond with a story to trump theirs, as if to make you seem more adventurous of your experiences more valuable.

Have a Sense of Humor, But Don’t Be Crude

The office can sometimes be a stale, boring and stifling environment. You might be working in a very professional, busy, time-pressured and stressful environment. But this doesn’t mean that humor will go amiss. While your co-workers may not be your close friends, being lighthearted and cracking some jokes from time to time can act as a social lubricant (or glue, depending on your preference for analogies) that makes working together so much easier.

humor can bring people closer together, but it can also divide us. Not everyone shares the same sense of humor, after all. Someone may find slapstick hilarious, while someone else thinks it’s immature. And one person may love dark humor, yet another person may find jokes about sensitive topics to be a bit much for their taste.

So, by all means, bring out your sense of humor in the workplace but keep in mind that the humor you shared with your friends may not go down so well in the workplace. Constantly offending your co-workers is going to put you on bad terms with them.

Before pulling the trigger on that genius remark you have floating around in your head, consider whether someone else may perceive it as crude or inappropriate.

Know When Small Talk is Right and When It’s Not

For a highly introverted person, there is usually nothing more hellish than small talk. Yet, in the workplace, it’s pretty much unavoidable. Since you’re likely to be working with many introverted people, people who are busy with their heads down in their work, constantly making small talk with them is just going to annoy them.

This doesn’t mean you should avoid small talk. (It’s kind of necessary to keep things going smoothly and to avoid long, agonizing days of silence). What it does mean, however, is that you should limit your amount of chitchat in the office. If someone has their headphones in and is busy working, catching up with them about their weekend might seem friendly on your part, but from their point of view, it’s kind of annoying.

Also, avoid office gossip. Getting involved in this kind of small talk is likely to create tension, conflict, and awkwardness in the workplace.

Call Out the Rude Behavior of Other Guys

Part of being a decent co-worker means not only refraining from doing shitty things but also being a positive, good-natured person. If you see another guy exhibiting intrusive and dominating behaviors – especially towards women and co-workers from ethnic minority backgrounds – be sure to call them out on it. Your colleagues don’t deserve that kind of treatment.

There are often measures in place to deal with workplace bullies who mistreat others. And reporting this kind of behavior is, of course, always advised.

But you can also portray yourself as a morally-upright man by standing up to the workplace bully. Your bravery will be rewarded. You will earn respect from others, and build a great deal of self-respect as well.

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