5 Things You Can Be Doing to Be a Better Coworker

You probably spend more time with your coworkers than you think. Working 40 hours a week means you’re in their company about 2,000 hours a year. This makes them a type of office family, and like your actual family, you don’t get to pick your coworkers. You do have to find a way to live, or in this case work, with them. The trick is to understand you can’t control how your coworkers work or behave. They’re their own people. You can, however, work to become a better coworker and build a collaborative work environment.

better coworker

1. Smile

Emotions are contagious. People are primed to pick up emotional cues in their social networks and mirror them. We do this naturally to show cohesion and solidarity.

To help your coworkers feel better, smile when you walk into the office. Keep an upbeat attitude, even when plans go sideways. Learn to laugh at yourself. Work hard and find the joy in mastering your task.

But remember it’s a two-way street. Your mental state is vulnerable to other people’s stress and negative emotions. Learn to recognize when such attitudes may be affecting you and have a plan to turn it around.

Smiling is a small thing, but it be exponentially uplifting.

2. Engage in small talk

Too many people believe small talk is a waste of time. Not true. Having a genuine interest in your coworkers’ feelings, hobbies, and life events shows them you care—in turn improving communications and the work relationship.

When possible, engage in face-to-face conversation. Our minds perceive a person’s tone, expressions, and body language as more socially real than words on a screen, and therefore more rewarding.

For the introverted, small talk is easier said than done. Thankfully, like any skill, you can develop it and become comfortable when networking.

3. Don’t expect it now

Technology and the internet have increased the speed at which we work and decreased the time it takes to complete certain tasks. Don’t require such mechanical speed from your coworkers, though.

Be mindful that they have schedules and lives of their own, and don’t seek the same instant gratification from them that you would from, say, a printer. This is especially true when it comes to email. Allow your coworkers the courtesy of responding in their own time. For emergencies, make it your practice to call or discuss the matter in person.

4. Learn the art of praise and criticism

Not all talk can be small. You’ll sometimes have to discuss group projects, and learning how to offer critiques and commendations will be key to maintaining a productive partnership.

When offering praise, be specific and genuine and try not to exaggerate. Your coworker should walk away understanding your value their work and having them on the team.

With criticism, remember you’re their coworker, not their supervisor. Don’t word your criticism as though looking down on them. Your coworker shouldn’t feel you are attacking their abilities or singling them out. Instead, they should feel you are noting an improvement the team can work on.

5. Pay it forward

Like smiling, an act of kindness can quickly turn a coworker’s attitude around. The act doesn’t have to be grand or daily. A small yet thoughtful deed will do the trick.

You could offer to clean the break room even though it’s not your month. You could bring a Friday snack for the entire department, or a coffee for the new mother who hasn’t been sleeping well. Even something as simple as an afternoon walk-and-talk with a stressed coworker can pay huge dividends.

Be a better coworker, create a better workplace

It doesn’t take much to be a better coworker. Small, conscientious choices make you a valuable team member. You’ll benefit, too. Your efforts and hard work will serve as an example others can follow, leading to a more harmonious and thoughtful company culture.

You may not be able to choose your coworkers, but that’s okay. By following these tips, your coworkers will be happy to have you in their office family.

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