Know thyself to knowing others

3 barriers to playing well with others at work, and how to overcome them

Moving past self-awareness to other-awareness to resolve conflict, collaborate well, and communicate better
3 barriers to playing well with others at work, and how to overcome them

Despite the new norms of the remote and hybrid workplace, one value hasn’t changed: we want to feel linked to the people we work with. Take a new study published yesterday by Miro, which asked North American workers if they plan to remain in their jobs for the next year. Many will, and for one key reason: their connection to their coworkers. It’s a steady reminder of what matters to plenty of us on the job. Whether you’re looking to foster belonging, have more meaningful conversations, or find relationships that endure, getting connected is key.

So how do you strengthen your sense of connection at work? One tactic: building up interpersonal skills like other-awareness. Other-awareness lets us see, understand, and leverage each other in meaningful ways.

While self-awareness is at the foundation of a good relationship with yourself and others, it’s other-awareness that helps us move ideas, careers, and companies forward. Yet its benefits are impeded by big barriers: conflict, lack of collaboration, and poor communication. By steering around these barriers, you can build a better connection on your team—and find more satisfaction in your work.

Out-bounding the obstacles

You can test three exercises to help leverage conflict, produce results through collaboration, and communicate like a champ. They’re adaptable, too: while there’s power in doing these exercises live, you can flex them around the personality of your team or other differences. Neurodivergent employees, for example, may find it easier to complete these exercises asynchronously. Hybrid teams can also conduct these virtually, pairing up in breakout rooms to provide some privacy.

👭 Treat conflict as a friend, not foe

Plenty of us fear disagreement. But healthy conflict offers plenty of rewards to reap, like independent thinking, innovation, and smarter operations. To build better conflict, try an activity that editor Anna Oakes has facilitated to help teams reflect on what’s most important, share their reasoning, and hear a range of perspectives.

The exercise: Name it, tame it

Gather a team and pair up to run through this exercise, with five minutes per duo.

  • Name the issue. Our teams overlap often and we step on each other’s toes a lot.
  • Share what you think should change, indicating a possible solution if you have it. I think we should change the way we intake client needs to help us identify potential owners from the beginning.
  • State what you’d like to fiercely protect and why. I’d like to fiercely protect the connection my account managers have with the clients during the design phase of the work.
  • Compile potential ideas, make agreements, and operationalize your aspirations.

By surfacing conflict without fear, you’ll crowdsource ideas to tackle now, along with potential improvements for the future—and create more productive ways to disagree.

🚀 Collaborate with intention

“Going it alone is an idea that’s romanticized in the world of business,” says Sally Helgesen, a leadership coach and author of Rising Together. “We keep our head down [solo] instead of thinking, who do I need to help make this a success?” But as you rise in your career, she says, you don’t need to perfect your solo skills: you need to depend on those of others. She suggests a peer coaching exercise to work on reciprocal collaboration.

The exercise: Intend to the end

Collect a group of peers and pair off for two four-minute rounds. In each pair, select a project or goal you want to gain ground on. Next, consider a person who could help you move it forward. Who do you need to achieve your goal, and how could you enlist them to help? Working back and forth, answer these prompts.

  • I need to connect with ___________ to make this a success.
  • This will help me to ___________.
  • I can frame my ask by ___________.
  • Mutual benefits might include ___________.

By talking back and forth and coaching each other through this thinking, you’ll practice intentional connection—and armed with that skill, you can debrief with the bigger group to create an action plan.

📣 Keep after communication

We’re often asked to communicate better at work, like in giving constructive feedback, holding more effective meetings, and beyond. But in focusing on how well we’re heard, we can miss how well we listen. To hone your skills in deep listening, try practicing intentional pauses with a technique adapted from Gary Ware of Breakthrough Play.

The exercise: Listen, pause, reply

Grab a partner and set a timer for a five-minute dialogue.

  • Player A begins by saying something true about themselves.
  • Player B silently counts to fifteen, then responds to what Player A said.
  • Player B then says something true about themselves.
  • Player A silently counts to fifteen, then responds to what Player B said.
  • Repeat.
  • After five minutes have passed, bring the pairs together to share what was challenging about the exercise—and what they learned that they can leverage going forward.

By focusing on intentional pauses, you’ll learn to listen better and respond authentically. And the more you practice this type of sharing, the easier it will be to build connection and camaraderie.

More resources for the me and we of work

🎨 Our guide to redesigning collaboration

👯 How to decide what’s best tackled as a team or solo

🏘️ There’s a better metaphor for work than “family” or “team”

🤝 The counterproductive flaw in the cult of productivity

The values we vibe with

As we build self-awareness and other-awareness, we will be able to not only prop up our own ideas and impact, but also those we crave connection with—our coworkers.

You got The Memo

Send any news, comments, or your vote for which skill wore it better—self-awareness or other-awareness—to

This edition of The Memo was brought to you by:

😬 Our editor, Anna Oakes, who’s keen that her other-awareness borders on codependency.

🪢 Our deputy editor, Gabriela Riccardi, who’s buying her conflicts a friendship bracelet.

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