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Updated Oct 20, 2023

5 Simple, Proven Ways to Be a Better Co-Worker

Learn strategies for becoming a better co-worker, whether you're well liked or struggling to find your place. Crucial skills include active listening and kindness.

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Max Freedman, Business Operations Insider and Senior Analyst
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

Table of Contents

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Working on a team can raise a lot of questions. How can you and your teammates be there for each other as deadlines loom? What’s the right way to ask for and provide help? How do you walk the fine line between being cordial with colleagues and being too friendly for the workplace?

With these tips on being a better co-worker, you’ll be able to answer these questions more easily.

1. Learn what your teammates like (and dislike).

The simplest way to be a better co-worker is to figure out how your colleagues like to conduct business meetings. That’s because meetings, though important, can feel like a burden when they go wrong. Team meetings are more likely to go right if you act in accordance with your teammates.

You might also want to consider how you speak with your team outside meetings. According to a study from Igloo Software, you can be a better co-worker if you speak from the heart instead of using business buzzwords (phrases like “touch base” and “circle back”).

Other advice includes keeping your meetings on topic, not leaving meetings to take phone calls, and not participating in side conversations.

Your co-workers want meetings and interactions that are focused, productive and interesting, so try to contribute positively.

2. Communicate in person.

The way you communicate with co-workers can significantly impact your relationships with them. It’s easy to misunderstand or misconstrue emails and instant messages, so to be a better co-worker, increase the amount of face-to-face time you get with your peers.

In an NPR TED Radio Hour, psychologist Susan Pinker said spending too much time communicating through technology can keep you from the most basic biological necessities. Unlike email threads and IM chats, face-to-face communication – and interactions like handshakes and high fives – can cause the body to release oxytocin. This hormone helps people connect with and trust others, facilitating collaboration and attachment. Oxytocin can also positively impact your mood, decrease cortisol (the stress chemical) in your body, and improve your ability to learn and remember.

Take at least a few moments out of every day to step away from your computer screen and talk to your co-workers in person – it can make all of you much happier. If escaping from your desk during the workday proves to be a challenge, join co-workers for lunch. In addition to helping you connect with co-workers, workplace meals can improve productivity.

Remote teams can occasionally swap text chats for video conferences. Consider using one of the best video conference services to catch up with your teammates and bolster relationships.

3. Work harder – it’s contagious.

It may be easier than you think to motivate your co-workers. You’ve likely heard the phrase “lead by example.” As it turns out, research supports this adage. Focusing on your work can cause others around you to do the same.

According to a study published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, thinking hard can be contagious. Researchers assigned pairs of participants computer-based tasks and gave a more challenging task to one person in each team.

The experiment was conducted twice, once with dividers between the pairs and once without. In both cases, researchers found that the participant with the easier task concentrated harder than usual, even though their task didn’t require significant mental exertion. Researchers suggested that these participants may have been influenced by changes in the body posture of their partners who had to complete the more complex task.

By putting in the effort to concentrate and work harder, you can rally your co-workers and create a happier, more productive workplace.

4. Always be kind, never rude.

Thinking hard isn’t the only thing that’s contagious: Research from the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business shows that your attitude can influence your co-workers too. The study likened workplace rudeness to the common cold.

Researchers conducted and compared three different studies in which students had to respond to rudeness in different situations. They found those who experienced rudeness were more likely to perceive rudeness in their environment and even to treat people differently.

In one of the studies, students were paired with others in a negotiating class and had to fill out questionnaires about their partners. Researchers found that the students who rated their partners as rude were rated by their next partners as rude themselves.

If you want your interactions with your co-workers to go smoothly, don’t be rude. Avoid short replies, and try to make pleasant conversation with your peers. If a co-worker is rude to you, don’t bring that negativity into how you treat others. When you maintain a positive attitude in the workplace, you have the power to improve the company culture.

Did You Know?Did you know
Disrespectful employees who undermine others in the workplace make their co-workers more likely to display unacceptable behavior.

5. Be honest about your capacity.

Picture this: You told a colleague you didn’t get to a particular project because you were really busy. Maybe you should’ve gone the show-don’t-tell route. A study by corporate communications company Havas Worldwide found that 42% of adults overstate how busy they are, and 60% of adults are suspicious that their peers do it too.

However, according to the study, only 1 in 3 global respondents said they always have too much to do, and 1 in 5 said they’re constantly running around. The study found that workers are likely lying about how busy they are because they think having free time could make them seem nonessential to their employers.

Honesty about your capacity can make you a great co-worker. That doesn’t mean saying yes to everything or not expressing when you’re nervous about taking on more. It just means doing so tactfully. Instead of saying “I’m busy,” try, “Thanks for bringing this to me. I have X, Y and Z on my plate. Is there any chance I can look at this in a day or two?”

If not, your co-worker might ask someone else to help, and that’s OK – your co-worker is respecting your capacity, since you’ve respected their question.

6. Be clear about your availability.

Everyone takes personal days, vacations, sick days and other time off, but not everyone knows when you’re doing these things unless you tell them. To be a better co-worker, tell your team when you’re going to be out for the day.

Give them plenty of notice about your more extended vacations, too. This way, your team can proactively plan around your absence instead of contending with one less team member at the last minute.

Plan your paid time off (PTO) a week or two in advance, rather than a day or two before. This gives you plenty of time to alert your team and minimize disruptions due to your absence.

7. Practice active listening.

Paying attention to your co-workers can be challenging when your thoughts are racing about how much work you have to do. But active listening – genuinely hearing and responding to what people tell you – is key to building trust and being a great teammate.

When co-workers ask you for help or express concerns, devote your full attention to them and follow up however you can. Your co-workers will feel acknowledged while seeing that you care about them and enjoy working with them.

FYIDid you know
It's also crucial for managers to actively listen to employees and involve them in company decisions to show them they're valued.

8. Get back to people in a reasonable timeframe.

Nobody’s asking you to reply to emails instantly – most communication can wait until after a client meeting or your day’s work on a big report. But you should get back to your co-workers relatively quickly after they ask you for help, updates or anything else. Waiting an hour or two to reply is probably fine, and slightly longer is OK if you give a thorough, attentive response.

There’s one caveat here: You don’t have to respond to after-hours emails if people know you’re not working. If your co-workers want to contact you at 9 p.m., they can, but they should know you won’t reply until tomorrow’s workday. This response time is totally acceptable – that’s when you’ll be primed to give them the thorough answers that make a great co-worker.

Brittney Morgan contributed to the writing and research in this article.

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Max Freedman, Business Operations Insider and Senior Analyst
Max Freedman has spent nearly a decade providing entrepreneurs and business operators with actionable advice they can use to launch and grow their businesses. Max has direct experience helping run a small business, performs hands-on reviews and has real-world experience with the categories he covers, such as accounting software and digital payroll solutions, as well as leading small business lenders and employee retirement providers. Max has written hundreds of articles for Business News Daily on a range of valuable topics, including small business funding, time and attendance, marketing and human resources.
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