“Plays Well with Others”

That was what my parents wanted to see on my report card when I was in primary school. It was a key method of learning whether or not their child was figuring out how to get along with others. Was young Andy adapting to the world around him, acquiring socializing skills, and sorting out how to deal with the different personalities he was meeting at school. “Plays Well with Others.” Enough to make a parent proud. All the rest of the readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmetic would not matter much, if Andy could not get along with others.

And then we get past that time and no one monitors or worries so much about it anymore. It is still essential and now even more important to building a life and friends and family that have merit and value. I recently read an article about the “Laws of Character and Personality” that quoted a book called The Unwritten Laws of Engineering. An engineer is very technical and is often not what we call we’d call a “people person.” However, they live in a world that requires they communicate with others and get along in order to share knowledge, concepts, and work on projects together. The book devotes a good bit of space to how to get along with all kinds of people. Here are excerpts organized as bullet points that apply to you and me and most everyone we come into contact with throughout the day and week.

1. Cultivate the ability to appreciate the good qualities, rather than dislike the shortcomings, of each individual.
2. Do not give vent to impatience and annoyance on slight provocation. Some offensive individuals seem to develop a striking capacity for becoming annoyed, which they indulge with little or no restraint.
3. Do not hold grudges after disagreements involving honest differences of opinion. Keep your arguments objective and leave personalities out of it. Never foster enemies, for as E. B. White put it: “One of the most time-consuming things is to have an enemy.”
4. Form the habit of considering the feelings and interests of others.
5. Do not become unduly preoccupied with your own selfish interests. When you look out for #1 first, your associates will be disinclined to look out for you, because they know you are already doing that.
6. Make it a rule to help the other person whenever an opportunity arises. Even if you are mean-spirited enough to derive no personal satisfaction from accommodating others, it’s a good investment.
7. Be particularly careful to be fair on all occasions. This means a good deal more than just fair upon demand. All of us are frequently unfair, unintentionally, simply because we do not consider other points of view to ensure that the interests of others are fairly protected. For example, we are often too quick to unjustly criticize another for failing on an assignment when the real fault lies with the manager who failed to provide the tools to do the job. Most important, whenever you enjoy a natural advantage or hold a position from which you could seriously mistreat someone, you must “lean over backwards” to be fair and square.
8. Do not take yourself or your work too seriously. A sense of humor, under reasonable control, is much more becoming than a chronically sour dead-pan, a perpetual air of tedious seriousness, or a pompous righteousness. Of course, a serious matter should be taken seriously, but preserving an oppressively heavy and funereal atmosphere does more harm than good.
9. Put yourself out just a little to be genuinely cordial in greeting people. True cordiality is, of course, spontaneous and should never be affected, but neither should it be inhibited. We all know people who invariably pass us in the hall or encounter us elsewhere without a shadow of recognition. Whether this is due to inhibition or preoccupation, we cannot help thinking that such unsociable chumps would not be missed much if we just didn’t see them.
10. Give people the benefit of the doubt, especially when you can afford to do so. Mutual distrust and suspicion generate a great deal of unnecessary friction. These are derived chiefly from misunderstandings, pure ignorance, or ungenerously assuming that people are guilty until proven innocent. You will get much better cooperation from others if you assume that they are just as intelligent, reasonable, and decent as you are, even when you know they are not (although setting the odds of that are tricky indeed).

Well that is a lot of words, but if you’ve gotten this far I suspect you know how loudly they ring true. Oh, and you don’t have to be an engineer to intentionally put these into practice. Trust me, you will get along better with people and be more productive when you follow these guidelines for living. We no longer get a report card to show our parents, but your friends, family, co-workers, and others notice exactly how well you are doing at this. So, do you “Play Well with Others?”


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