Interacting and Working with Others


As you grow up, you will find yourself working with others more and more frequently. Working as part of a team or a group can present quite a few challenges. Think about a sports team or an orchestra for a moment. For these group efforts to work right, participants need to know their position, understand the task, take direction from leaders and work together.

One of the challenging realizations in working as part of a group is that not everyone can be the leader or the boss. Some groups work better when there is one leader or coach (like in the examples above) and some groups work fine when there is no specific leader and everyone participates equally. Can you think of an example of this kind of group activity? A group project in a class or a pick-up basketball game might be able to run with no leader. Think about it, the more complicated the task, the more likely there will need to be some kind of leadership structure and the more people might need to play specific roles on the team.

Honesty and sensitivity – Part 1

One of the biggest challenges in dealing with relationships and groups is balancing honesty with being sensitive to the feelings of others. Let’s say your friend really loves music and loves to sing-but he has a pretty bad voice. What would happen if your friend asks whether you like the way he sings? Now if this is just a random question you might try to find a way to protect his feelings. But what if he was asking to join a band or chorus you were involved in? You might then need to be more direct (because you really don’t think he should be in your band). You might have to tell him that he doesn’t have a very good voice, but you can still try to soften this by telling him how much enjoyment he obviously gets from music and singing.

Honesty and sensitivity – Part 2

As you can see, balancing honesty and sensitivity is a tricky business and often depends on the issue (singing and working on an important school project have different levels of importance), the context (like we mentioned above, a random question versus something that has consequences or ramifications) and maybe even your relationship with the person (you might be able to be more open and direct with some people than others for all kinds of reasons). The fact is, there is no simple guideline for this and this balancing act is something adults also grapple with all the time. But trying to think it through and consider the various sides of the issue can help you come to decisions about what feels like the right balance of being honest and also being sensitive to someone’s feelings.

Dealing with competition

Any group activity or project will raise another challenge for members: competition. As little kids, we want to be the center of attention and get what we want. A big part of growing up is learning to share attention and things with others: sibling, friends, or kids in our class. We need to learn we are not the center of the universe.

But we still never completely lose the feeling that it is nice to be first, to win, or to get the biggest or best thing. We hopefully learn to recognize the needs and importance of getting along with others. And this leads us to share and compromise. But competing with others and wanting to be best at something (or at least really good) can be a very positive thing. It can push us to work and try hard at sports, school, learning an instrument or even just playing with friends. Competition can be motivating.

Competition, compromise and flexibility

Like so many other human qualities, the issue becomes one of compromise, flexibility and good judgement. While competition can motivate you, it can also be disruptive. If you need to always be better than anyone else no matter what the activity, people may not want to work or play with you. If you always need to be the leader in any activity, you will likely not have many friends. So compromise and flexibility demand that you make decisions about the situation. There may be activities that you are really good at and would make sense for you to be a leader. Other times, it’s probably better for you to be part of the team and just do the best you can.

Competing thoughtfully also requires that you try to be aware of your abilities and talents. We are all better at some things than others. If you are clear and honest with yourself, you’ll have a better time deciding what role makes sense for you in a team or group situation.

Don’t compare yourself to others

Here is an idea, the best person to compete with often turns out to be yourself! Think about how you can be the best at things you can possibly be without focusing quite so much on those around you. Think about what tasks and roles really mean something to you. It is helpful for you to be as good a student as you can since whatever you learn will always be helpful in your life. But if you are clumsy and hate sports, maybe it is not so important for you to be a leader in athletics. Maybe you are a great writer or musician and want to choose to be as good at this as you can. You get to make a lot of these choices as you go through life.

Handling conflict

Each of us carry our experiences, attitudes, opinions, values and even biases with us all the time, no matter what we are doing. And for each of us, these are going to be different. Sometimes the differences will be pretty small and other times they can be monumental. As a result, when people do things together and work together on projects or tasks there will inevitably be differences of opinion about things and some level of conflict.

Conflict is good?

But consider this – conflict is actually a reflection of diverse opinions and diversity is actually good. Why? When people doing something together have different opinions and can discuss and evaluate them in a respectful and thoughtful way, you can actually come to more interesting decisions and conclusions. When everyone just goes along with those being more forceful or speaking loudest, you don’t always have a chance to explore and evaluate. There is great value in looking at challenges from many different perspectives.

Working through a conflict

So disagreement and conflict are fine – if people can handle them effectively. How do you work with conflict effectively? The first step is understanding the source of the issue. Sometimes the conflict may not be coming from a real disagreement but from a misunderstanding. People might not have explained themselves clearly enough and this had led to confusion about what was actually being said. Usually, if everyone can ask the people who disagree to explain themselves in more detail this will become clear.

When there is a real difference, it works best when people can discuss their points of view fully but respectfully. Sometimes, in complicated situations there is no exact right answer, sometimes (like in a math problem) only one answer can be right and others are wrong. But when people can discuss their points of view with respect and be able to accept being wrong when more evidence or information comes to light, very often a conclusion or decision can be reached. In groups, sometimes putting ideas or approaches to a vote can be a way to resolve difficult matters too. But the important point here is being open to being wrong, being flexible and being respectful of your team members.

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