Deep down, through and through, I am a lover of people. I delight in the presence of others, I love to energize other people and to be energized by them. I love to inspire them and to be inspired by them. I love to encounter the way they look at the world and learn from it. I love to be able to share the workload. Yup, I’m a "people-ist". I love people.
I happily find myself in a job that fosters many opportunities to be in the company of others, and decidedly fewer opportunities to fly solo.
But even so, there are a fair number of days, when I wake up and think to myself “This day would be easier if I could just do it by myself.”
You see, there are days for many of us when we would rather be alone. There are days when we would rather work in isolation.
There’s an ancient African proverb that says "if you want to run fast. run alone, if you want to run far run together." Frankly, there are days when I just want to run fast.
And that’s probably true of many of us.
But maybe it's not about speed. Maybe it's about quiet. Or something else altogether.
I have encountered a fair number of individuals in my career who don’t feel about people the same way I do. I’ve found, for some people, the number of days they would be happier if they were alone, is significantly greater than the days they are willing to put up with others.
I hope that within the line of work that you’ve found yourself, that you have the right balance between your natural inclinations towards being with others and the type of work that your role allows.
But, if you find yourself needing a little inspiration on those days when you’d rather “just run fast”, but you know you have to be ready to work with others, let me offer three ways that working with others makes us better humans.
1. We gain self-awareness.
Self-awareness and self-management are two of the first stages of emotional intelligence, and they are critical to our success. Self-awareness is the realization of who we are, what our triggers are, what our natural default emotions are, and how we respond in certain circumstances. Frankly, when left to our own devices we can’t always discover what we need to know about ourselves. Working with others allows our similarities and our differences to become visible and even useful!
If I have a fairly loose relationship with time and you have a fairly rigid interpretation of time, then, when we work together, we might both learn there are preferences other than our own. We might also go so far as to manage ourselves once we’ve gained this self-awareness. I might arrive a little early to meet your needs, and you might give me a little bit more grace when I cut it closer to the wire than you would prefer.
If I get annoyed by or irritated by a certain type of interaction, but you don’t, I can learn from you, channel your calm, and perhaps benefit from hearing your perspective on why that didn’t get under your skin like it did mine. Maybe you demonstrate more urgency (or less procrastination) than I do. By hanging out with you and working with you, I learn to accelerate my pace on some tasks, or at least be aware that my pace is different than yours.
To clarify, by "collaborating" here, I don't mean directing others or telling them what to do. I don't mean insisting that they conform to my way, my approach, or my style. I mean genuinely collaborating with them, working alongside them, learning and growing from them. There is a fabulous benefit to be gained, specifically in the area of self-awareness, which can then very naturally lead to self-management.
2. We develop empathy.
By spending time working alongside others, we get an opportunity to hear their perspective and their stories and to be exposed to a life journey that is not our own. We’ve each walked our own path on this earth, and we’ve reached conclusions in our head. We’ve formed emotional and mental pathways based on our own experience. But by working alongside someone else, demonstrating curiosity for the things we do differently, and truly listening to their ideas and their perspectives, we can begin to better understand our differences and use them to our advantage.
--“Why did you choose to do it that way?”
--“Oh, because I’m responding to a previous encounter I had where another way turned out to be less effective”
--“Why did you react so suddenly to that situation?”
--“Oh, because it reminded me of this other situation I’ve been through that has formed who I am.”
In the natural conversation of demonstrating curiosity while collaborating with someone else, we can learn about their journey and their story. Then we can use what we’ve learned to hone our own sense of empathy, to imagine what it might be like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.
Empathy allows us to be more effective when we are directing the work of others, when we are inviting or coordinating volunteer groups, when we are coaching or providing feedback, or when we are making up stories in our own heads about how others behave. Empathy can go a long way towards treating others with more patience, compassion, and grace.
3. We get diversity of ideas, depth of knowledge, and breadth of perspective.
Years ago, my family and I were playing a game of "I Spy With My Little Eye" over the holidays. With the whole, extended family gathered in the living room, one of my nephews had indicated that he saw something orange, which made no sense to me because there is nothing orange in any of my decor. But he insisted that he saw something orange. After a lengthy pause, where the fun started to be sucked out of the room because none of the rest of us saw anything orange at all, one of my daughters walked over to where he was. She sat on his lap and said, “Oh! I see it! It’s orange! Is it that little thing right there?”
The little orange thing turned out to be a holographic sticker on our television set. For all the rest of us in the room, it looked some shade of blue or purple, but because of the way the light hit and the angle, from where he was sitting, it was orange.
It turns out we were all right. From one perspective that sticker was blue. From one perspective that sticker was purple. From one perspective that sticker was orange. Collaborating with others lets you see the richness of color in our different perspectives.
There’s an old adage that says that after about seven, opinions start to repeat. So maybe when we are collaborating with people, we don’t necessarily need 14 or 15 or 25 people in a room to be effective. But if we’ve got something less than seven, then with each individual we add, we are still increasing our breadth of ideas, the variety of perspectives, and our opportunity to stretch ourselves and grow and offer solutions. And that richness of ideas, when we are exposed to it, makes each one of us a better human.
Bonus: We deepen relationships.
Countless studies these days are pointing to the painful reality of loneliness in our society. As we become increasingly connected electronically, we are becoming increasingly disconnected personally and socially. When we collaborate with others, we have the opportunity to build friendships, to care for others, to listen, to be heard, to get our focus off ourselves for a moment and pay attention to the other person. And by doing so, we deepen our relationships with them and we help each other know that we are not alone.
There they are - a handful of ways collaborating can make us better humans. What else have you found? Share your insights in the comments, send us an email, or connect through any of our social media. We are looking forward to collaborating with you!