Understand your co-workers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 March, 2007, 12:00am

IF YOU ARE in a company that is trying to promote a constructive office culture, you have probably come to learn that judging others is politically incorrect. However, this is an area in which I find myself falling short, and perhaps that applies to you too.

I do my best to hide any hint of being judgmental by watching my words and tone, but at the end of the day my thoughts are what they are. But before we beat ourselves up for our shortcomings, let us think this through a little further.

As humans we cannot help but judge. I am no psychologist, but my guess is that that is the way people are wired. In fact, judging others is not a bad thing, because we need to make decisions all the time, every day.

The problem arises when we judge others with a standard different from the one we use to judge ourselves. We often judge ourselves by our intentions, while judging others by their actions.

Unless you work in an office with like-minded people, you are bound to run into challenges relating to team work.

The way you perceive and view the world is not necessarily how others see it. Most of us would say we know this, but how does this translate into our real understanding of others?

You can have two people going into a meeting and coming out with completely different perspectives. One will think: What a great meeting and such constructive debate; the other may think: What a complete waste of time.

In Hong Kong, this divergence of perspective is even more apparent, because of the city's multicultural makeup.

I work at an international consulting firm with people from nine different countries. I am Korean. Many of us are highly educated and ambitious, but otherwise we are all different. We work on multiple project teams, not always with the same people, and we work to our clients' needs and timelines. Sounds like a recipe for 'challenges'? It certainly is.

As a way of dealing with challenges in our workplace, we have developed a common language of who we are through personality frameworks. This helps us think where the other person is coming from, before jumping to conclusions about their intentions.

I have discovered that I like to keep things flexible. As a consultant, this has served me well, as I am open to change and willing to adapt to clients' needs. However, working with others, my adaptability and flexibility has been perceived as being irresponsible.

When working with someone from the opposite end of the personality spectrum, I have made the mistake of judging them as control freaks: two people serving the client but going about it in different ways because of their different personalities.

We tend to use a double standard because it is easy to judge on sight. We see our own intentions but see only the actions of others. To give others the benefit of the doubt and understand their intentions requires a degree of faith in something unseen. So what are you, as part of the team, doing to understand others?

Ji-Ye Hwang is a senior consultant with Hewitt Associates, a global HR consulting and outsourcing company. She is Hewitt Hong Kong's lead consultant for employee engagement. Her views are not necessarily endorsed by Hewitt Associates.