Thoughts

Working as a Team with Conflicting Personalities

Personalities are part of what makes each of us an individual, defining how we generally process events and how we react to that information. Personalities might be similar, and a behavior that we've seen somewhere before can make it easy to jump to conclusions -- bad or good. It's always important to remember that individual personalities vary and that judging and pigeonholing someone is a sure way to either grow to disdain them or be disdained yourself.

As social animals, we come up against people we love, hate and feel ambivalent towards every day and in every situation. While it's obviously easier and feels better to surround yourself by people that you enjoy being around it's not always possible. In a work environment, it's rarely possible, so it's important to have a toolkit on how to handle people that you just don't care to be around so you don't lose productivity, the respect of your colleagues (or managers) or just your cool.

When you're stuck with that person who just drives your crazy, remind yourself of the temporariness of the situation and examine it for what truly gets under your skin. Is it a specific thing you can politely, subtly, non-passive aggressively communicate to your colleague? Are they very loud when you prefer a quieter atmosphere? Are they prone to saying things that make you feel uncomfortable? Do they shirk duties or prefer a different work schedule?

Barring a situation of abusiveness or harassment, the best first step you can take is to breath and analyze what's happening. If it stopped, would you feel better? Is it something you feel comfortable mentioning? If the answer is yes to both of those things, than say something.

Before you say something, again take a breath and consider your resources in your team or environment. Is there someone you know who won't judge you or might have insight that could help? If you feel that they can be in your confidence, then ask to set up a time to talk. Get their input, make a plan, feel confident in yourself and your next steps.

If the stars align and you think talking would help, ask the person you don't along with to meet up for coffee or have a quick 15 minute meeting as soon as they are able. Don't write it out, don't do it in front of people -- set a time to talk where no one feels defensive and if possible, there's an impartial third party who can help diffuse any tension.

If the stars don't align and you don't feel comfortable or that it would be productive to say anything, the most important thing to remember is to control what you can control. You won't always like what happens, but if you focus on what you can do and what you want to do things can become clearer and less stressful.

No matter what, remember communication is better than bottling your feelings and experiences -- but if communication can hurt you or your life, your happiness or your career, protect yourself before you do anything. Never put yourself in danger because someone else is unpleasant. Instead, document what happens and reach out to resources and your support network for advice.

Negativity as Tactic

Negativity is something that most people say they don't like. Negativity is also incredibly common. Why? 

Well, being negative is easy. Being negative means that you simply say no to what everyone else is working towards and proposing without adding anything to the equation. Being negative and focusing on the fearful is the quickest way to place yourself in the limelight without actually having substance behind your voice.

Everyone wants to sound like the smartest person in the room, from politicians running for the Presidency to your coworker whose gunning for that promotion. Behaving negatively means that one can sound smart and cautious when other ask people to look to the future and build. This is incredibly common in group settings and it's something a true leader and forward thinker avoids.

Where others focus on the downside, it's your job to build the upside and create positive alternatives and futures to whatever dilemma you and your comrades are facing.   

If you're working on a project and a team member seems to only ever list catastrophic problems that could potentially maybe one day possibly happen, take a step back before getting annoyed. Remember that this team member might have a few good, constructive points hidden in the negativity and you can find them by asking probing questions. Pull away the hysteria by asking them to quanitfy and specify their predictions of doom. Soon you'll find that what was impossible a few moments earlier was actually a comment on a weaker aspect of the project you're building together.

Doom and gloom is easy, constructive criticism and vision are hard. Be your best self and lead your colleagues away from negative excuses to positive events.

Using What You've Got

It's the biggest day of your life with only a few hours to spare before the project/performance/event/test that will define your life and career for the foreseeable future. And all of a sudden the bottom drops out. You lost your main investor, your voice is too shot to sing the solo or the zombie apocalypse inconveniently starts right before you take the stage. Whatever's happening, it's not good and you are starting to panic. Adrenaline courses through your body and your brain starts screaming that everything is falling down around you and it's just not going to work.

This might not be ideal for most people, but with the right kind of mindset this is a pretty great place to find yourself.

I'm a planner (sometimes obsessively so), but I am constantly working to incorporate and appreciate the unexpected into my life and my projects. When everything is known before it happens, life becomes a dull and drab march towards the inevitable (if you don't believe me, read a variety of philosophical and fictional works on the necessity of free will and the harshness of predetermined life). When surprise drops in on us, it's up to us whether we swing into contingency plans and improvisation or if we panic and crumble.

While it can seem appealing to fall apart when things get rough, it's so much more important to feel that panic and then let it go. Emotions are important and key to our shared humanity. But emotions can also hold you captive and force you to act without rational thought. When things start to go south and that dreadful, creeping feeling of failure comes upon you, it's important to remember that you should feel it -- but you shouldn't let it control you.   

When panic sets in, feel it and learn from it. Diagnose the pain point that pushed the adrenaline into your system, harness the nervous energy that's running through your veins and make your fear work for you. Your fear is important and instinctual. Your fear is telling you something key that you might be overlooking. But fear isn't smart. Fear is indiscriminate and it will cripple you if you let it. When panic sets in, feel it and then let it wash through you.

After your panic washes through you, take a look at what's happening. If you're lucky, the insurmountable from a moment ago is suddenly just an opportunity to grow and change with the times. You had a backup of that irreplaceable item, or someone can pull double duty behind the scenes. It's not always that simple to fix a plan that starts to pull apart at the seams, but it doesn't need to be if you accept that you might have to adjust things on the fly and that the unexpected breathes new life into the staid.

The most important thing you can do to be successful in the face of the unexpected, in my opinion at least, is to always think ahead and build out contingencies when you can. You aren't planning for the exact thing that could go wrong, but you are preparing yourself for the idea of change. You are practicing and building a process where things can evolve with their surroundings to stay fresh and relevant. It might seem counterintuitive, but a good plan always includes the idea of "going with the flow" so that you don't trap yourself in panic when your world rapidly changes. 

Nothing fun or important or innovative ever came from staying in your comfort zone, which are easy words to say and exhilarating words to live by.   

Is it time to move on?

Horror stories and accolades can sometimes serve the same purpose in life. It's human nature to remember the crappy things that happen and the canonize the great things, which isn't so bad if you think about it. Every time you (constructively) complain about a co-worker or system or what-have-you, you're building up a subconscious list of what you see as issues that can be improved. The same can be said of the positive experiences that you rave about -- you're building a list of things that worked for you.

A crappy boss can make your life miserable. They can make you feel small, unwanted and overall unhappy in your job (if not your life in general). If you have a crappy boss, life can seem pretty grim. The most important thing to do is keep building yourself up and building that list of behaviors or techniques that you don't like because they'll serve you well in the future.

Speaking of the future, before you lose your mind to stress and impulsively quit, figure out what's so crappy about the boss. Is it their techniques, personality, the culture of the department or just the company itself? I always think a good rule of thumb for how you feel about a job can be seen in your fantasies for quitting. Do you want to make a big stink or slink away? Do you want to stay on good terms or make sure everyone knows how miserable you were? 

Once you have an idea of why you're unhappy, start looking for a new job that will make you happier -- but don't let anyone in your current company know. And try to stay positive. The more you let things roll off your back like water rolls off a duck's back, the happier you'll be. Focus on your new opportunities and try to exist with what's making you unhappy.

At this point, I also think it's important to state that there are a lot of people you've probably been (constructively) complaining or ranting to for awhile. Buy them all some coffee or a beer or give them a hug. They deserve some appreciation for helping you reflect and move forward!

As things start to look up and you get that new amazing job as an ice cream tester at Ben & Jerry's (or wherever else you go), don't leave in a sour or rude way. Stay above the fray and stay professional -- forget your fantasies of quitting with a huge song and dance number and just submit a letter of resignation.

You'll take your classy style, happier life and good thoughts with you when you leave the job for greener pastures. You'll also have that list of constructive complaints that you built up with your time at the last job. Leave the emotion of them with the past and use the objective facts to make yourself a stronger leader and colleague.

Did you hate how your last boss was dismissive? Or how they focused on the end product over the process? Make sure you're appreciative in your new role and focus on the details of workflows. Never lose an opportunity to grow or improve yourself by learning from a crappy boss just because they are crappy!

Viral Loops, Social Media and Web 2.0

I'm always interested in learning more about the Internet and the software and hardware that make it the revolutionary tool that our society has come to rely on so heavily. As much as I find technology interesting, I'm not always enthralled by books that talk about the history of the Internet and technology. So many of them are dry, boring and absolute pains to get through -- which is just bizarre! Access to the Internet is now being considered a right and not a privilege, so it seems ridiculous that so few people actually know what flows in the tubes inside the interwebz.

Enter Viral Loop: From Facebook to Twitter, How Today's Smartest Businesses Grow Themselves by Adam L. Penenberg, an incredibly readable hybrid of business, marketing and technology writing.

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I picked my copy at the local library, thinking it might be a somewhat interesting read to skim. I start it earlier today and have already flown through nearly half the book. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in how word of mouth marketing works, as well as how to apply it to a business with access to the Internet.

The book covers more than just Facebook -- it also talks about Tupperware, how Internet browsers developed and how people leveraged the new technology of the 1990s into millions of dollars by understanding human behavior (and being pretty damn skilled/lucky). 

One thing to note before you take Viral Loop to heart: it was written in 2009, so it's not exactly cutting edge. While I'm really enjoying this book and its discussion of marketing theory, recent tech history and how they collide in the real world, the last five years really show in its lack of discussion of mobile applications and some of the companies that are examined.

If you've read it or think you want to read it, comment away and tell me what you think!