The Control Freak’s Guide to Working With Others

When you want to things to be perfect, do it yourself. Right?

Haha, you just outed yourself as a control freak. Or a perfectionist. The qualities that make you that way serve you really well in a lot of circumstances. Until you have to work with other people. 

When you want to do it right, do it all on your own, and have trouble sharing the burden of responsibility, you ultimately limit what you’re capable of achieving because it’s always all up to you. 

So maybe you can loosen your grip just a little bit, and actually enjoy collaborating with others more. 

 

The Control Freak’s Guide to Working with Others 

 

1 | GET ON A TEAM YOU TRUST

The word “team” gets thrown around a lot, but a team and a group of people who work together are two different things.

Whether you’re doing the hiring, looking for a job, or choosing who you collaborate with, do your best to find a true team to be a part of. True teams support each other, challenge each other, complement each other, and work towards shared visions and outcomes. 

When you’re on a team you can trust, you can relax. You know that everyone is doing their part, brings their own expertise and style to bear, and is working with the whole of the group in mind. 

 

2 | EXPECT THAT PEOPLE WILL NOT BE ABLE TO READ YOUR MIND

What? But your way seems so obvious! And the only reasonable way to do it!

I know, I know. My way, too, is always the most obvious and most efficient. Except to the people who don’t see it that way. 

There are two things you need to do here: 

1. Become a more skilled communicator. 

You may have to spell out every tiny step, including things you think should be obvious to others. Oftentimes what we think is obvious is merely our own habit, style, or preference. 

2. Teach instead of punish.

When someone gets it wrong, instead of being frustrated, thinking they’re stupid, or yanking their responsibilities, give them the benefit of the doubt. Trust that they want to do well, and that they’re doing the best job possible given your instructions and their experience. Use it as an opportunity to teach them how to do it better, AND for you to improve your instructions. Most people are pretty capable. Give them a chance. 

 

3 | DO YOUR JOB, AND ONLY YOUR JOB

When you feel compelled to comment on how someone else is or is not doing their job, take over someone’s job, or think that you could do it better than them, repeat after me: 

That’s not my job.

I can’t tell you how many times that phrase has kept me from imploding or being a total a-hole. I worked in the theatre for years, which meant constant collaboration. Even when you’re on a good team, it’s impossible not to see opportunities for a production to be better. Fine - you get to see those things.

But you don’t get to butt in and lord your opinions over everyone. You’ve probably been around someone who has done this and it’s horrible. Even if their intentions are to improve things, the way they do it is totally out of line and is devastating to morale and relationships. 

Rarely is a project worth ruining relationships over.

So, when you want to do something that’s not your job, tell your best friend, write it down in your journal, tell yourself “that’s not my job” until you calm down, and otherwise keep yer mouth shut. This takes practice, but you can do it!

 

4 | QUIT PATCHING HOLES

When someone doesn’t do what they’re supposed to, and it’s not your job to fix it (see above), but you really wanna fix it...

don’t. 

Ok, if you’re on a team and it’s your job to look out for each other and collaborate and all that, ok, fine. Fix it. 

What I’m talking about is when you silently swoop in and clean up other people’s messes. Noooooooooo.  

If you quit patching up what you think is a problem, one of two things will happen:

  1.  It will be fine, anyway.
  2. The team will see where the hole is and it can be fixed by the right person. 

Once you start playing clean-up crew, you usually get to keep that job. This is not a job you want. It enables others on your team to drop the ball and it makes you resentful. 

 

5 | HONOR THE HIERARCHY

Organizations (ideally) have a clear power structure. You know who reports to who, who has seniority over who, and who is in charge of what. As much as you can, honor the structure of the system. 

This means taking problems or suggestions to the proper person. I know that there are a lot of dysfunctional work places out there, so sometimes you have to jump the chain of command or backchannel to get things done. In this case, at least honor the facade of the hierarchy so people don’t feel that their position is being challenged. 

And if your organization has a cockeyed pecking order or no good way for your ideas to be heard, consider finding a different organization. 

 

Have something else you struggle with when it comes to working with others? Let me know in the comments.