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7 reasons your co-workers hate you

7 reasons your co-workers hate you Adam Kleinberg


Two years ago, I wrote an article for iMedia Connection called "7 reasons your employees hate you." It was a story about how to be a better manager. Based on the hundreds of tweets and dozens of blog posts it inspired, it seemed to have resonated with people. Every one of us can relate to a story about a manager we've hated -- and every manager out there could stand to look in the mirror for opportunities to perform a bit better.

You start out in your job as a doer. You do tasks. If you do them well, you become a manager. Then it's your job to get other people to do the tasks as well as you once did. For the official "manager," those people are your employees. What about the rest of us?

I've got news for you: We are all managers.

They may not be employees, but in the course of our jobs, we all have the need to compel other people to do things. You can't do your job well unless your co-workers do their jobs well. They don't report to you, but you still need them to act in a certain manner in order to be successful at your job.

If you're a producer, you may need to compel your design team to meet their deadlines. If you're a designer, you may need to compel your producer to get you more time to deliver a great product. If you're a waitress, you may need to compel a bartender to get your drinks.

Not only are you a manager, but you're also a manager at a disadvantage. Why? A manager has two kinds of power: role power and relationship power.

Role power works great in the short term and is actualized in the following sentence: "You work for me. Do as I say because I can fire you." Sometimes, role power is necessary for a boss to use, but in the long term, role power becomes less effective. If you threaten to fire someone every day, they will hate you. They will make a show of doing what you say when you're around, but won't be emotionally committed to doing what you say when you're not around. Eventually, they will quit.

Next, there's relationship power. Relationship power comes from having...you guessed it...a relationship. When a manager has a relationship with their employees, they don't have to bark orders. They can ask. They can empower their employees to make choices -- and when an employee feels empowered, they perform better. If you know I have your back, you'll have mine. If a manager has a relationship, they can ask an employee to work the weekend. When they say yes, it'll be because they don't want to let you down -- not because they hate your guts.

Now, let's return to you.

You are at a disadvantage. You do not have role power because the people you manage -- your co-workers -- don't report to you. The only tool at your disposal is relationship power. Yet, so many of us squander relationships and act in ways that make our co-workers' skin crawl when we walk in a room. They cringe when we open our mouths and flip us the bird when we turn our backs. We're not bad people, but they hate us with a venom that would drop an elephant.


You're condescending

You don't mean to be patronizing. You are just trying to help and want to see a good job get done, but you come across as a condescending blockhead.

If you say to someone (as I admit I did just a few weeks back), "We really should have considered factor X before we did this," and they already did consider factor X before they did this, you are being condescending. Although you and I both meant to be helpful, we were not. There is nothing more repulsive to the people who work with you than some know-it-all implying they are idiots.

Arrogance is unattractive. No one wants to be sneered at. Before you go tell somebody how the work they did isn't as good as the way you would have done it, make sure you have context. This is not the same thing as having standards or caring about the work you do. Nor is this the same thing as sharing vital information that your co-workers need in order to do a great job.

This is about respect and professionalism.

Now, you may be saying to yourself, "How am I supposed to know if my co-workers considered factor X? I just know it needed to be considered."

Here's a simple tactic that might blow your mind: Ask.

Yes, it's a subtle difference. Yes, it may take you an extra 30 seconds. But by treating your co-workers with that little dash of respect, you build relationships instead of tearing them down. At the end of the day, what's important is that factor X is considered, not that people are impressed with how smart you are.

Because, believe me, they're not.

You talk before you listen

As the CEO of an interactive agency, I am constantly looking for bright, passionate, and creative individuals to join my team.

The problem with bright, passionate, and creative individuals is that they have a ton of great ideas that they just can't wait to share. They just-can't-wait so much that they wind up talking over the people around them -- other people who happen to have a few bright ideas themselves. There is nothing more irritating to the people you work with than being interrupted. It makes people hate you, and it is counterproductive.


When you have a meeting with your co-workers, the goal should be some level of collaboration. When you spend that meeting spouting your "brilliance" without making the effort to understand your co-workers' perspectives, they don't want to collaborate with you. They want to throw you out of the window. They will shut down on you.

You may not realize that I'm talking about you. But I am.

If you're wondering why your co-workers don't seem to care about the project you're on, if you're scratching your head about the hostility you seem to get every time you have a brainstorm, or if you feel like you care so much more about how to correctly do this task than everyone else around you and just can't understand why, take a look in the mirror. Observe yourself.

Do you listen to the people around you? Or do you talk first?

You set them up to fail

We work in a very goal-oriented business. We have deadlines we must meet, objectives we must surpass, and clients we must please. Performing in this environment is hard, especially when you don't have a chance of succeeding because some bonehead set you up to fail.

Are you that bonehead? If you are, your co-workers surely hate you. If you suspect you might be, keep reading.

There tends to be two ways that you can set your co-workers up to fail -- the tangibles and the intangibles.

The tangibles are the things that a team simply cannot succeed without. These are things like the right tools to do the job, enough time to do it well, enough resources to get it done, and enough budget pay for it all.

There's no escaping the fact that we sometimes have to make commitments that other people have to live up to in this business. But if you are making those commitments, there's no excuse for doing so unless you know your co-workers have the tangibles they need to live up to them.

The intangibles are murkier. They're easier to get wrong, but no less critical to get right. These are things like ensuring that a client understands the implications of a particular decision, that feedback is clearly communicated to your team, or that the person who is going to be making a commitment on your behalf knows if you don't have the tangibles you need.

That last one is key. If you see a train wreck coming and you don't speak up, you're just as guilty as your coworker who might be driving the train. After all, we're all human. We only see what we see. If someone is setting you, themselves, or someone else on your team up for failure, your goal should be to prevent that -- not to point fingers.

You waste their time

In 2010, Harvard Business Review reported on a multiyear study that overwhelmingly indicated that the single most important factor in keeping workers motivated on an ongoing basis was a sense of progress.

If that's the case, then surely the single most important factor in keeping workers de-motivated has to be some idiot wasting your time.

I'm going to make an assumption. I'm going to assume that since you're reading this article in a professional publication, you care about your job. You take pains to do it well. You strive to get things right. You spend time on the details. You put your heart and soul into your craft.

These are not just your billable hours we're talking about. This is your sweat. This is your commitment to excellence. Now, imagine you pour all that commitment into a project, and it turns out that your efforts were a complete waste of time -- and that waste of time was the result of one of your co-workers simply not doing their job well.

You're going to hate that person.

There's a fine line here. Sometimes we have to go through the motions. For every idea a client picks, there are two that wind up on the cutting room floor. They all have to be great and that requires work, which is not wasting time. That's the business we are in, and it's not what I'm talking about.

What I am talking about is wasting people's time because you are careless, lazy, incompetent, sloppy, or irresponsible.

That, my friends, is grounds for loathing. Don't do it.

You don't say please

You work in a fast-paced world with demanding clients to serve, or perhaps demanding executives to report to. You don't have time to explain every little detail of every little decision to every person you interact with.

People need to shut up, stop whining, and get done what needs to get done when it needs doing. Sounds good, right?
Perhaps. But people have dignity and self-worth, and they want to feel self-actualized. They deserve to be treated with respect. Sure, sometimes (or often) stuff just needs to get done, and you don't ask them to complete the task because "no" isn't an option.

Wrong. You should say, "please" anyway.

But why should you, other than simply to not be a jerk?

Remember role power and relationship power? Role power -- using the authority of your position to make others do stuff -- works great in the short term, but it quickly erodes in the long term. If you use role power as your long-term means of interacting with your co-workers, you will quickly find yourself surrounded by haters. They'll grumble. They'll do a haphazard job. They will do the minimum they need to do and nothing more. And, you'll wonder why.

Relationship power is a better tool for the long haul, and the path to good relationships starts with common courtesy.

If there's urgency, explain why there's urgency and say "please."

No urgency? Still, say "please."

You communicate everything and nothing

A friend of mine likes to tell the story of a creative director he once worked with that used to make a point with a rubber ball. He would sit across a conference table from a client and bounce a ball to the client. They would catch it. Then he would do it again, but this time he would throw three balls across the table. The client would miss them all.

Too often, I see people try to communicate everything and wind up communicating nothing.

Rambling is not an effective communication tool.

We exchange information constantly in business -- in emails, briefs, meetings, and hallway conversations. It is tempting to try to convey every nuance and detail -- to cover your tracks at the expense of actually communicating what's important.

But, the human mind can only grasp so much. It is worth the effort to pause and look at what you really need to say.

And that's all I really have to say about that.

You don't have their back

At my agency, we have three rules:

Do your best work.
Deliver it on time.
Always have your teammates back.

Ten years ago, when we were just starting out, bigger agencies would hire us as a creative SWAT team. Around that time, an agency in San Francisco was pitching a huge account. They brought me in for a week to put together their first round presentation.

As often happens when agencies pitch, the CEO of that agency was making big changes up to the last minute. When he left the office at 7 p.m., I still had a mountain of work to do before our deadline at 8 a.m. the next day. At about 11 p.m., I realized there was no way I'd be able to pull this off by myself, so I called my partner, Theo.

By 11:45 p.m., he had gotten out of bed, jumped in his car, and driven downtown.

By 5:45 a.m., we stumbled out of the office bleary-eyed, but satisfied that we had done our best work, and had done it on time.

My partner had my back. There is nothing that builds trust like knowing your team has your back. And there is nothing that builds distrust like knowing they don't.

I've seen great people just up and quit a great job because one co-worker decided, "it wasn't their problem" when another needed help.

You have a job. That job has a job description with neat little bullet points that describe exactly what your responsibilities are.

If you really believe all that matters is that you accomplish the specified tasks in your job description, you suck. If your first instinct is generally "not my problem," you suck. If you throw your teammates under the bus, you suck. If you leave them in the lurch, you suck.

And your co-workers should hate you.

Adam Kleinberg is the CEO of Traction.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Business men fighting" image and "Cracked wall texture" image via Shutterstock.

MediaPost named me an OMMA All-Star in 2013, an award given to the three most influential digital creatives in the U.S. each year. I was called one of the Top 25 Most Innovative Marketers in Digital in 2012 by iMedia Connection. In 2014, Traction...

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