How I Use One Single Question to Change My Interactions at Work

When I landed my first job, I quickly found myself in a tricky situation: I worked with a coworker who thought it was ok to belittle me.

The attacks were subtle. He wouldn’t make eye contact when we were together unless forced to. Took every chance he got to make sure I knew he had more tenure than I did and therefore obviously knew more. Never tried to get to know me by making small talk. Never, ever asked for my input on anything.

We worked on the same team and it was daunting. It shook my confidence. I second guessed decisions and kept to myself during team meetings. I never felt good enough.

This went on for months, until I found the courage to confront him. It wasn't a pleasant conversation. I learned he was frustrated that I had been hired in at the same level he was, even though I was so much younger and just starting out. And he was taking that frustration out on me, sometimes even subconsciously, because he was so angry and couldn't get over it.

How often do we do that to others?

When we spend the majority of the day thinking about ourselves, we risk coming from a place of negativity or selfishness when we interact with colleagues. Our thoughts perpetuate subtle, belittling behaviors because we're only focused on ourselves. Sometimes we consciously do it, but other times we don't even realize how we're treating others because we are so focused on our own feelings.

It looks like:

  • I can’t believe I didn’t get credit in that email chain. Intentional reaction: Next time I'm just not going to reply at all.
  • My boss never thinks my ideas are good enough. Subconscious reaction: Not talking in team meetings, answering emails or playing on your phone instead, not interacting with the team.
  • I am so angry at the amount of things on my to do list. Intentional reaction: Since no one else on the team has as much work as I do, I'm going to complain every chance I get.

What if, instead of focusing on how we feel, we came from a place of: How do I want you to feel when we're done talking?

Most of the time we don't intentionally go into a conversation thinking "I want this person to feel like I don't like them" or "I hope they feel inferior to me after this" but that's exactly what happens when we spend the majority of the day thinking about ourselves.

Having an "I" perspective can be detrimental to how others view us, especially if what we're thinking about and dwelling on is always something negative and we let it affect how we treat others.

Next time you join that conference call, answer that email, or go to a meeting, ask yourself: How do I want others to feel when this is over?

Your "I" perspective will instantly disappear.