The interconnectedness of building products demands that even the most technical roles requires you to be a pleasant coworker for the sake of your team.
While in theory that seems like great advice, the details are easily lost, especially to people who tend to be naturally introverted and don't have naturally strong skills in social dynamics.
I'm writing this post on DEV in the lens of making your workplace an easier situation to exist in, but this mentality easily extends beyond that. Whether it's family, friends, neighbors, new situations, or anything where it's required for you to get along with others, a positive attitude will benefit you in unimaginable ways.
There's going to be a strange underlying sentiment behind this post - "should I act this way to make other people like me, or should I do it to feel better in my life?"
This is a very valid question, and truthfully there's no set answer.
Personally, I'm a bit rebellious, grew up listening to punk rock, and generally don't mind pissing people off. One time in college someone told me they'd never seen me smile, and truthfully I think I would've been able to live my entire life rarely leaving my apartment unless it was necessary.
But, that attitude didn't do anything in terms of progressing my life, and especially made it difficult for me to deal with other people.
School, work, friendships, family... most of these situations were a living hell for me.
If there were other people involved, there would always be some kind of drama or conflict.
For me learning how to cultivate a positive attitude not only made my normal interactions better, and helped get me my current position as a software engineer despite not having professional experience (and I've been informed my attitude is a reason why), but it's made my daily life feel so much better.
There's no Sophie's Choice. Whatever your motivations may be, cultivating a positive attitude will improve your life in a multitude of ways, including workplace success.
When I made my first leaps into changing my life outlook, I realized that I was constantly looking at the things other people did and judged it.
"Why did that guy make that wrong turn? What an idiot!"
"Why would someone leave this here? That's so inconsiderate!"
"Who would say something like that? They must be a selfish jerk!"
"My boss said something rude! He's totally incompetent!"
And are any of these statements wrong? Probably not.
The problem is the sphere of your attention and focus, and how it undermines your ability to be in control of your circumstances.
Accept this upfront - there is no perfect world in which you can currently live in.
The fact is that no matter how much you complain, get upset, honk your horn, or yell at your tv, you will never be able to change the way other people behave.
This doesn't mean that you should become a mat that people can walk over and abuse. But allow your focus to peel off from them and return to you.
Ultimately, I think there's two subconscious self-destructive mechanisms at work:
- You're disappointed in the world you see around you. It hurts deeply when they don't ascend to your expectations of excellence, and
- You aren't deserving of your own attention, and it going to others is a way that you punish yourself by not allowing yourself to feel good about you and your life.
This is normal. Most people live inside of this world. Don't beat yourself up about it.
But, I will turn it around and say, how many times have you messed something up in your life? Be it minor, like making a wrong turn, or not carefully watching what you say.
Let's say it happens 3 times a week.
Now think about how many people you cross paths with on a daily basis. And it may be possible you may have witnessed one person, out of the thousands you may come by, do one of their 3 screwups.
A lot of the issues that arise around dealing with people is the assumption that you know their intentions.
Unfortunately, the human mind hasn't evolved the ability to mind reading yet, and if anything recent studies show that people are terrible at understanding each other's intentions.
Often times when dealing with other's, especially in the work environment, there's an unfortunately thick layer of suspicion and defensiveness.
There's a strong desire, for example, to always interpret your boss's directions as a criticism of your work.
Leading to: "why would they say that? Why would they do those things? Don't they know I'm working hard?"
When, in reality, your boss may actually have something in mind that you don't know or aren't privy to. Or, even better, they're truly trying to help you become a better worker.
Of course, on the other hand, you may have a sociopath as an employer. I've had a few myself. Every critique was actually a power move on their part, trying to demean me for their own ego inflation.
The problem is that even in those worst of circumstances, people have nowhere near the amount of introspection to realize that they're doing unfair actions towards a subordinate. To them its justified management.
The question again boils down to measure of control.
Even at the two ends of the spectrum, assuming people's best intentions solves both scenarios.
As an employee, if you take direction and assume that it comes from the best place, you will be thankful and appreciative that your boss is concerned about you doing the best work you can.
Even if their intentions are not fully wholesome, you at least will placate their issues and most likely will leave you alone because you're not giving them the pushback they're looking for.
Of course, if you do have a sociopathic boss, please go looking for a new job - it'll especially be much easier to find one with a new positive attitude!
Positive affirmations are more commonly known as "fake it till you make it," and are one of the most powerful ways of improving your mentality.
First, take a sheet of paper, fold it in half, and write down 5 to 10 negative self-thoughts or beliefs you hold on the left side.
On the right side write the positive take on the negative side, being careful not to state it negatively.
- Negative: I am not a hard worker
- Positive: I enjoy taking my time with work, and don't put unrealistic demands on myself
A less effective positive spin would be something like: I am a hard worker.
The key is not to lie to yourself, but to instead change your thoughts from negative to positive. While what you're focusing on specifically is important in a certain way, it's more a matter of redirecting the internal process and voice inside your head.
After you've created a list of 5 to 10 affirmations, tear them away from the other side of the paper, and now you have a list of things to repeat yourself daily.
Maybe post them on your bathroom mirror, and repeat them to yourself. Or maybe on your fridge. Basically anywhere you'll remember to repeat them to yourself regularly.
It's also important that when you feel the negative thought arise, you gently guide them to the positive affirmation.
It's vital not to see negative arising thoughts as bad or wrong, but rather a built in neurological connection between two points in your brain that you're trying to redirect somewhere else.
Doing this regularly will create a more harmonious internal experience, which will then reflect to the world around you.
I wrote last time about how to get started meditating, so I won't get too much into the mechanics.
I wanted to focus on one main key that's a byproduct of meditating - becoming less reactive.
Meditation, in part, is the act of constantly watching your thoughts from a distance. Reinforcing this feeling over and over again, eventually you learn how to keep a healthy distance from them, and don't react quite as quickly as you normally would.
In a work setting this can be the difference between a healthy meeting, or an ugly one that turns personal.
Being able to maintain distance from an arising thought like, "why would they say that?" in the middle of a high pressure situation that can happen in certain meetings, can save a lot of potential headaches.
You'll find yourself acting more like a mediator between yourself and the external world, rather than a combatant.
These are only a few small things that can help relieve a great deal of pressure that comes with the odd dynamics we find ourselves in because of work.
Becoming more light-hearted, more present, less argumentative, more helpful, patient, and understanding can be hugely important in progressing in your career.
But beyond that, it can also help greatly in your personal life. And that kind of benefit is worth investing time in.
Some other great resources: