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How to be a Great Coworker

Estimated reading time: 6 mins

We all want to be a Great Coworker, right? If you’re not sure what it takes to be that colleague who is respected, loved and involved then I have some useful tips for you below.

  1. Be a Great Listener. First out of the stalls on how to be a great coworker is to be a great listener. Sometimes, your colleagues just want to have a bitch and a moan to offload their troubles and worries. That’s all. They don’t always want solutions. Just listening is all you need to do – you might not need to say much to be a great help in these situations. Obviously, you must say the odd word to confirm you’re actually listening and that you understand (it’s called Active Listening).  Once your coworker has vented all their troubles, you can end the conversation with a few sincere words hoping that they can resolve the problems quickly, and add a reassuring smile. I wouldn’t rush into offering help, unless you are specifically asked for it.
  2. Act promptly. An organization relies on the cooperation and timeliness of its workers. Your coworkers probably rely on you to do your job when they need it. Delays can cause them trouble, or simply delay their work. Being a great coworker requires you to give your coworkers what they need in time, which can be as simple as answering your phone when they call or responding to their emails. If you can’t respond when they need you to, tell them so and maybe they could initiate a Plan B. Whilst what they need is in your inbox or voicemail box, then it’s in ‘No-Mans Land’ and is delaying everybody involved. If you’re not sure of the priority of what your coworker is requesting of you, then why not ask? The same goes for attending meetings. Have you noticed that it is often the same group of people who are late for meetings? (And do you consider them as ‘great’ coworkers?)
  3. Avoid doing irksome things. You will destroy any warm feelings towards you if you do something that annoys your colleagues. What do I mean? It depends on your workplace but here are a few suggestions:
    1. If you drain the last cup from the coffee pot, then don’t just walk away into the sunset. That is selfish and annoying. Think about how you feel when you approach the coffee pot and some chump has taken the last cup without putting on a fresh batch! This alone could provoke death-threats! Same goes for eating the last cookie, or using the last piece of toilet paper… you know what irks you!
    2. Taking the last cup – sort of allied to the above point. How aggravating is it when you’re ready for your next fix of coffee and there are no cups to use! Some workplaces have a dishwasher – so instead of taking that last cup (and to hell with everybody else) why not fill (or empty) the dishwasher so your coworkers can get their beverage too?
    3. Dispose of your trash… don’t leave it lying around for others to stare at. Especially if it is food wrappers. How much do you get annoyed when a coworker does this?
    4. Making noise… need I say more? Playing music loudly – even if it is through your earphones – can get right on their nerves. Don’t do this!
    5. Chat-chat-chat-chat-chat-chat-chatting. Have you ever had a colleague who just won’t shut-the-f**k-up? Did you want to punch them right in the mouth? (Are your coworkers feeling the same about you???) Chatterboxes are very annoying people. Don’t be one of them.
  4. Be positive. (But not positive to the point of being saccharin.) Positivity spreads, and you could be the source of it. It’s easy to fall into a wave of negativity, and this, too, spreads. When times are tough and the work is piling up, a sprinkle of positivity can be just the tonic your coworkers need. A smile is often enough! Even if it is acknowledgement of a tough situation. A shared joke, or acting goofy to stimulate laughter might just break the back of the doldrums.
  5. Seek the opinion of your coworkers. Being asked for your opinion can be boost. It shows the other person cares about what you think. So turn the tables and ask your coworkers for their opinion on something you’re working with, or a problem you’re facing. You don’t need to be an island. Some people find this difficult – especially if it’s about something sensitive. When you receive the thoughts of your coworker, say thanks – even if you don’t intend to act upon it.
  6. Share the credit (and definitely don’t steal it!) If a shared piece of work has resulted in a great outcome, don’t steal the glory. Share it. If you’re being thanked by a customer or manager in your company, then you can tell them who was involved in that positive outcome. Your colleagues will trust you even more and I can guarantee that more help will come your way in the future. Do the opposite – and watch that support scale back. Heed these words my friend!
  7. Take risks together. If there is uncertainty about a course of action, positively share the risk with your coworker. Loading the risk on your coworker will not win you friends. For example, if you’re going to approach a business problem differently and treading new paths, then agree with your coworkers that you’re taking the risk together and you will all mop up the mess and put it right afterwards, if it goes wrong. Document what you’re going to attempt, and send it to your coworkers, so that there is a record of what has been agreed. That way, nobody can pedal backwards and everybody can take the risk knowingly, together.
  8. If you’re done for the day, then don’t go home if coworkers are struggling. Mucking in to help coworkers is a generous thing to do, and you will be loved for it. Sharing the load, when you don’t have to, shows that you care about them and want to help them finish for the day too. Packing up and sauntering out for the day is like flipping the bird! Do you remember a time when you wish one of your coworkers would put their hand up and offer help, no matter how small a contribution. Pay it forward!
  9. Don’t shed blame. Share the credit, but not the blame. If you and your coworkers have messed up, and you’re in the firing line from your boss, then (no matter how tempting it is not to) take it on the chin. Obviously, I don’t mean situations where serious misconduct has taken place, or you’re in a situation where you’ll get fired for the mistakes of other people. This takes judgment, but my advice is to err on the side of taking the knock yourself.
  10. Have their back. On the flip side of the above point, if you notice that a coworker is in the firing line, then offer them your support to fix the problem. The proverbial ‘arm around the shoulder’ can mean a heck of a lot when you’re being hammered for a mistake. Try to avoid entering into their denial. If the mistake is real then you won’t be doing your coworker any favors by pretending otherwise. Your role is to soften, not deflect, the blow.
  11. Share your stuff. If your coworkers share the same interests in books, movies, video games, etc then why not offer them a loan? It’s generous, probably won’t cost you anything, and it will give you something interesting to talk about over lunch. Not as easy in this digitized age, I admit!
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This post is part 12 of 14 in the series Getting to Know Colleagues
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About the author /


Simon is a creative and passionate business leader dedicated to having fun in the pursuit of high performance and personal development. He is co-founder of Applied Change, a Business Change consultancy based in the UK. Simon is also an Ambassador for Gloucestershire business. Simon is an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Professional Development.

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