Many of us spend more time with our coworkers than we do with our own families.

Whether you’re a founder/CEO, HR manager, or solo-preneur, you’re undoubtedly invested in relationships that are essential for your company’s success.

Just as it happens with family, however, many of us have fallen into a pessimistic attitude towards a certain coworker or employee. Familiarity breeds contempt they say…

This contempt for the shortcomings of our coworkers can be toxic.

“Why doesn’t ____ do better?” We ask.

“____ is always on their phone, slacking off… Don’t they know we have a deadline??”

We get frustrated, and we don’t know what to do about it, or what to say. (Confrontation isn’t easy for anyone) This can lead to becoming jaded and disengaged from the people we work with, and our work itself.

But what’s the solution?

Lately, I’ve been working through Rising Strong, by Brene Brown, and read something that I think will impact my view of people for as long as I live. I hope it can do the same for you!

It’s the type of concept that makes sifting through countless books worthwhile.

So what is it?

To answer that, first, a question for you:

“Do you think, in general, people are doing the best they can?”

Think about it.

As you consider this question, think about the reasons why someone may underperform at your company. What led them to that moment. What could be happening in their personal life? With their health? Something in their past?

Researchers gonna research… So Brene interviewed as many people as she could, asking over and over: Do you think, in general, people are doing the best they can?

What she found was interesting:

Those who said no, consistently qualified their answers with their own failures… “I constantly slack off….”

Ultimately, those who believe that people generally aren’t doing the best they can, are almost always very hard on themselves. The perfectionists of the world.

Those who answered, “yes, people are generally doing the best they can”, consistently qualified their answers. They were slower to respond, and almost apologetic about their response… They really think that people are doing the best they can. Brene began to associate those with this response to the question as people living “whole hearted” lives. Forgoing the temptation of perfectionism, they’re able to accept people and situations as they are, not as they should be.

In her search for answers, Brene then extends the same question to Steve, her husband.

“He thought about it for a solid 10 minutes… really struggling with the question.”

Steve finally responds, “I don’t know. I really don’t. All I know is that my life is better when I assume that others are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment, and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.”

That’s the key.

If we can treat those around us as if they’re doing the best they can, it can have a profound impact on our ability to relate to them. If we can actually believe this to be true, it will have an even more powerful affect.

For example: You see a coworker slacking off, or producing work that lacks the quality you believe they’re capable of. If you really believe that they’re fully capable of doing better, and are choosing to slack, it’s safe to say your attitude towards them will be negative. You’ll be angry, and they’ll most likely know it. This negativity might make you feel better in some small way, but won’t necessarily result in an improvement in their work.

Now imagine you see that same employee doing the exact same thing. You simply choose to accept it as the best they’re capable of at this point in time.

Even though it doesn’t change the fact that their work is not up to the standard you’d like, it can absolutely affect the way you choose to treat them in response. After all, if they’re doing the best they can at that moment, what’s the point in getting mad at them?

It would be a far better use of time and energy to try and figure out why they’re not doing better. What’s limiting them? Things at home? Computer not working? Frustration with a coworker? The big idea here: There is a reason they’re not doing better.

Adopting the right attitude will help you figure it out, and help them accordingly.

To summarize: Believing that your employees are doing the best they can has the ability to turn a stalemate situation into a productive one: A fact finding session with your employee that helps you better understand where they’re at, and empowers them to do better.

Practical Takeaway:

By coming along side your employee, and understanding more about where they’re at, you can adjust accordingly. Employee trainings, incentive structure, performance expectations, and even changes to company equipment can all be better tailored to the needs of your employees based on a deeper understanding of their needs. (I swiped some of these ideas from this Mashable article.)

This week’s challenge: Try viewing your employees through the lens that they’re doing the best they can.

There’s a good chance they are.


Photo by Ryan McGuire of Gratisography.