0

McLEOD: Interaction a skill nobody ever teaches you

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

What's more important: knowledge, work habits or the way we interact with others?

Recently, one of my clients was creating a project team. Several people volunteered, yet when they found out that Ms. So and So was going to be part of it, they quickly retracted their offers. The project hadn't even started, yet they were already jumping ship at the mere thought of having to work with Ms. So and So.

Here's the weird part: The person nobody wanted to work with was highly regarded for her knowledge of the subject, and she was generally known as a hard worker. What's more, most of the team believed she probably wanted the best for the organization as a whole.

She was smart, she wanted to help and she had a good work ethic. So why didn't anyone want to work with her?

Because her personality was so negative that she sucked the life out of people. With everyone already overworked to the max, they quickly decided that they weren't willing to muster up the extra emotional energy needed to deal with her.

What's sad is that I doubt she has any idea how she's coming across. She probably thought all her criticisms and negative commentary were actually helpful.

Negative people rarely recognize just how challenging they make it for everyone else. Seasoned managers quickly learn that the extra effort you have to expend managing a complainer just isn't worth it.

It doesn't matter whether it's the Fortune 500 or the PTA. A negative attitude will overshadow a high IQ, a strong desire to serve and even a great work ethic.

Ironic, isn't it? We place so much emphasis on knowledge and work habits, yet the thing that often derails people is their interpersonal skills.

What's even more ironic is that unless you're a speech, drama or broadcast major, you can go all the way through college without ever getting any meaningful feedback on how you're being perceived by others.

The challenge with over-the-top negativity is two-fold. First, the offender is usually so interpersonally unskilled he or she doesn't recognize the problem. Numerous studies reveal that competent people tend to rate themselves much more harshly than incompetent people because a person's incompetence literally blinds them to their own incompetence. (You're entitled to a self-satisfied chortle here.)

But the second challenge is that no one calls them on it because we often assume that they're doing it on purpose and that they like being a project killer.

So the smart, on-time-with-their-work-yet-emotionally-clueless person continues to over-complain (or needle people about inconsequential issues, or whine, or make negative assumptions, etc.), oblivious to the fact that the rest of the team is deflating by the moment.

The solution is simple: Get some training. We don't expect people to learn chemistry without a teacher; why should we expect people to instinctively know how to create positive interactions?

Don't get me wrong: You don't have to ooze charisma or become a Pollyanna. People are just fine working with shy, quiet people, and nobody expects a non-stop cheerleader.

But if every comment you make is negative or critical, you're probably detracting from the group more than you're adding to it. Your knowledge may be valuable, but if you consistently serve it up with a scowl, nobody is going to want to hear it.

Bottom line: Learning how to evoke positive feelings in others isn't cutesy; it's critical.

Snellville resident Lisa Earle McLeod is a keynote speaker, consultant, and the best-selling author of "The Triangle of Truth."