Yesterday, December 16, 2015, author Liane Davey gave advice on the Harvard Business Review website about how to get along with that co-worker who makes the most innocuous conversation tense and uncomfortable and who opposes you, seeming to always approach things as your adversary rather than an ally. You know, the jerk.
Instead of the usual way you interact with the jerk, try this approach.
1 | Imagine this scenario: The co-worker you consider a jerk sends you this email that you interpret as condescending and intentionally designed to make you defensive and anxious: “I got the draft of the presentation you sent. I caught a couple of mistakes, and I have some ideas for how to make it better. I’ll drop by your office at 3 PM to discuss.”
2 | Stop and wipe the jerk out of your mind.
3 | Instead, imagine the colleague with whom you get along best—the person who always has your back, the one you always want to calibrate with on important challenges.
4 | Now, imagine receiving this email from your favorite colleague: “I got the draft presentation you sent. I caught a couple of mistakes, and I have some ideas for how to make it better. I’ll drop by your office at 3 PM to discuss.”
5 | How do you feel? You’re probably interested in and looking forward to the conversation. You may even fill up the candy dish on your desk in anticipation.
Why shifting assumptions can de-jerk the jerk
When communicating with the person you think is a jerk, you assume the worst. Without even realizing it, your mindset, response and body language become negative and resistant. In stark contrast, in the meeting with your perceived ally, you assume the best, and your words and actions demonstrate openness and even enthusiasm for the ideas. You share and learn, the quality of the work improves, and the trust between you grows.
The best antidote to this destructive dynamic is to be aware that the assumptions you’re making gives you an opportunity to reverse the ill effects of your prejudices. Only when you become mindful of your biases can you choose a more constructive path. Positive assumptions make you open to progress; negative assumptions mire you in the past. It’s time to get over your prejudices and start being mindful of how to get value from everyone on your team.
Positive assumptions make you open to progress.
Negative assumptions mire you in the past.
– Liane Davey
Photo: Steve Martin, The Jerk (1979)