In writing these posts, I’ve frequently mentioned (as I did here) the importance of working well with others.
But I haven’t said much about maintaining your own effectiveness, reputation, and mental health when others all around you are challenging your boundaries and adding to the unavoidable difficulties that already exist.
Here, then, are some suggestions on how to survive and even thrive in the midst of family, friends, and colleagues who, at times, can be all too human.
Keep Enough Distance
Empathy is important, but so are clear boundaries. The goal is to recognize what the other person is feeling, but not to “get caught up” and let that feeling overwhelm you. I’m talking about the difference between warmly understanding and offering support, versus allowing yourself to be drawn in where it’s not helpful for you to go.
Maintaining your own equilibrium is not only more mature and ultimately more helpful, it’s emotionally far less draining. If you offer understanding and support to people, you can often help them effectively while also feeling good about yourself and your situation. But if you mistakenly participate too deeply in their emotionality, you’ll be less effective as a helper, and also quickly exhaust and disorient yourself.
Keep Your Own Counsel
Everyone experiences difficulties, troubles, and setbacks on their journey. But not everyone complains about it – and that’s a good thing.
One reason is that continual complaining tends to position you as a victim of forces outside your control. Another is that producing a steady stream of complaints implies you don’t know how to improve your situation. Neither of those is a good look.
This is not to say you shouldn’t seek advice or ask for help, when warranted. But you will do better by maintaining as positive an outlook as you can, preferring positive action over negative self-talk, and sharing privately with people you trust, rather than widely broadcasting your troubles.
Along the same lines, gossiping about others, just like complaining about your own situation, tends to generate more harm than good. Gossip rarely conveys positive information or produces positive results. What’s more, when you gossip about others, you increase the chances others will gossip about you.
Better to avoid both these categories of conversation as much as you can.
Keep Your Priorities
The world is full of tempting offers from people who don’t care very much about helping you complete your desired tasks, projects, and goals. This leaves it up to you to establish and adhere to your own set of priorities and preferences.
One good way to decide whether or not to accept a tempting offer or invitation is to consider whether you’d drop what you’re doing right now to say “yes” and immediately get started on it. If what’s offered doesn’t seem to have a high enough priority right now, it probably won’t have a high enough priority in the future when it actually comes time to do it.
Fortunately, there are lots of ways to say “No, thank you” without causing hurt feelings or burning bridges. Study them, and learn to use them – often!
Keep to the Present Moment
With people – as with everything else – the future is uncertain and the past is beyond your control. As a result, relationships are often complicated: full of potential pitfalls and unexpected backlashes. That’s why it’s generally better to dial down the importance of the past and the future, and to stay fully engaged in the present moment, entirely focused on generating as positive an outcome as you can.
This becomes easier when you manage your own life – moment to moment – to be as satisfying as possible. This way, you enjoy a solid base from which to engage amicably and effectively with whatever people and situations come your way.
You won’t be able to achieve perfection, of course, but attention to these simple matters will – surprisingly often – help you develop and maintain better, more productive, more successful relationships with the people you encounter in your work, and your life.
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