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Jan 13, 2015

There’s no “I” in team.” — Classic American teamwork slogan

No, but there’s a ‘me’ if you move a few letters around.” — Sarcastic response

When was the last time you worked completely alone, with no one to help you? Unless you’re an impoverished artist starving in a garret somewhere, the answer’s probably “never.”

No matter what our career tracks or work disciplines, nearly all of us depend on other people to help and back us up. Even people who work far afield, like explorers and archaeologists, tend to work in groups or depend on a support team back home.

Friction with your team is inevitable

Those of us who work in white-collar jobs rarely work alone. Even if you telecommute, you still belong to a team.

As such, you and your co-workers will inevitably experience friction, whether you serve as team leader or team member.

Perhaps you feel frustrated right now by several of the people on the team. If you just seem to get along, and you experience more than your fair share of conflict, you might want to consider the possibility you may be the problem.

Your team members may not flat-out tell you they have issues with you, especially if you supervise their work, but there may be several things they wish you knew but aren’t sharing.

I suspect I could write a 10,000+ word article worthy of the Harvard Business Review titled “100 Things Your Co-workers Wish You Knew,” because Western business culture tends to be too polite for its own good these days. Old-fashioned, painfully honest “Dutch Uncles” have become rare — possibly because they fear litigation if they speak too frankly.

What your co-workers wish you knew

So, I start with the top five issues your co-workers wish you knew:

1. They need you do to your work right — right away

Nowadays, most projects represent team efforts, broken into multiple pieces handled by different team members.

Typically, one or more teammates hand you the work they’ve finished, expecting you to do your part and pass it on down the line by given deadline, so everyone else can finish on time.

Do you? Are you acting as a bottleneck, slowing everything down? Do you even know whether or not you’ve put a kink in the work process? Worse, do you basically communicate “it’s done when it’s done” when they ask about it?

If so, take that “me” out of teamwork and respect other people’s time as much as you respect your own.

2. They’re sick of your attitude

Is everything that comes out of your mouth negative?

Stop frowning so much. If you always seem unhappy, try to cheer up, act friendly, and participate in social activities so people can get to know you as you really are.

If you complain all the time, try saying positive things. Either stop grumbling about everything or take the initiative to change things for the better. Look for opportunities to growth, don’t dwell on failure, and stop wasting time.

Negativity just drags your co-workers down, poisons their attitudes, and damages their productivity. It may also draw unnecessary attention to your team, making you all targets of executive discontent. And for heaven’s sake, don’t gossip. Most people hate it. When you gossip to people, they wonder how much you gossip about them behind their backs.

3. You’re too noisy

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone seriously accused of being too quiet, but complaints on the other end of the spectrum are sadly common.

If you work in an open plan office, turn your telephone ringer down, don’t use your speaker phone for conference calls, don’t talk too loudly, and keep your music to yourself. And stop hovering in the hall and having conversations with other people outside your co-workers’ doors.

Most people work more productively when they don’t have to deal with your distractions—and you’ll get more work done too.

4. If you’re seriously ill, stay home

Don’t try to be a hero, come to work while sick, and make everyone else sick.

A colleague of mine in Texas once worked with a normally productive manager who went home to Wisconsin every year for Christmas — and often brought back the most horrendous colds and flu.

He inevitably arrived at work after New Year’s sneezing and coughing like Typhoid Mary, and it wasn’t long before he emptied out his team by giving everyone some hardy northern ailment that barely bothered him at all.

5. Realize you don’t know everything

Rather than make unilateral decisions (even if you’re the manager), ask people their opinions, be open to new ideas, and implement their best solutions.

If they have time, brainstorm with them on how you can better complete a project you’re working on together. Return calls and emails ASAP. When people accomplish something noteworthy, receive a promotion, or hit a personal high, genuinely compliment them.

Most importantly, give credit where it’s due. NEVER present someone else’s idea as your own, or you’ll likely create bitterness for life — and your team or department will never be as productive as it might.

A tiny sample

These are the five complaints I hear most universally, and most consist of several related points.

We could learn plenty from our co-workers if they would just tell us, though we might not appreciate hearing it, including how you could improve your dismal fashion sense or that you have BO or bad breath or how irritating it is that you use up the coffee and don’t make more (thank goodness for Keurigs!). Talk it over with a trusted confidante and ask for direct feedback.

In the interest of my hypothetical HBR article, what have I left out? What is something you wish someone knew? Let us know in the comments below!

This was originally published on Laura Stack’s The Productivity Pro blog.