Seven Rules for Work

How to Deal with People

Jun 24, 2022   |   Business

I’m pretty young, but I’ve been working for eight years. Along the way, I’ve tried to create rules that govern my work. Here are seven rules I try to follow every day.

Everyone Makes Mistakes. Admit Yours Quickly.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you will make mistakes—all the time.

But don’t beat yourself up. Errors happen to everyone.

The worst mistake you can make is trying to hide when you get something wrong. It makes a mistake much worse.

Admit your errors quickly, so people can help you fix them.

We often avoid admitting we’re wrong because we don’t want to damage our reputation. However, admitting mistakes can quickly build your reputation back up. It’s not an easy thing to do, and most people will acknowledge that.

Let me repeat that, it is not an easy thing to do. Even if admitting your mistakes sounds good in theory, you’ll struggle to actually do it.

That’s natural, but you should fight against that nature every day.

Trust, But Verify

If everyone makes mistakes, it seems necessary to check the work of others.

If someone tells you they changed this website feature or fixed that documentation error, believe them, but also go look at it yourself.

It might seem like this is distrusting of others, but remember that everyone makes mistakes. You aren’t expecting to find them, but you have to check just in case.

Plus, you could have been the one that made a mistake! If you asked them to complete a task but didn’t give enough context or misdescribed things, they might’ve approached the task in the wrong way. Only by checking their work will you see if miscommunication happened and be able to fix it.

Embrace “I Don’t Know.”

Unfortunately, you don’t know everything. There will be times you’re asked questions, and you’ll feel pressured to give a response even though you have no idea what to say. Don’t give an uninformed answer. It’s always better to say, “I don’t know.”

It certainly feels risky. You don’t want to look dumb, uninformed, or scared. But it’s much more dangerous to give an answer you haven’t thought through.

Tell them, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out for you.” Or, “I’m not sure, let me get back to you in a couple of hours.”

Everyone will be grateful to avoid bad information or a poor decision.

Be Humble

You don’t know what you don’t know. So always be open to new perspectives, dissenting opinions, and correction by others.

Listening to corrections from others is hard. It can hurt your pride and even your identity. Remind yourself that this is the best way to improve your work.

Embrace healthy conflict because it forces the best ideas to come out on top.

Nobody is 100% sure of anything. We all just take bets on what we think will work. Since we can’t have 100% confidence, we must be open to other ideas. And as we’ve already covered, you will make many mistakes. To avoid disasters, humble yourself and listen to others.

Be Confident

Being humble doesn’t mean being timid. You should feel comfortable giving new perspectives, dissenting opinions, and (humble) corrections.

Speak up when you have a new idea, and weigh in on the thoughts of others. You are unique and bring a perspective that others can’t replicate. Value that perspective, and put it to work.

Confidence is required to move up in the world. If you have career ambitions, you need to be confident. If you want to work on ideas you came up with, you need to be confident.

Write Out Your Thoughts

Your brain excels at making your thoughts sound smarter than they are. The best way to combat this is to get your thoughts down in writing. Writing forces you to see a clear picture of your thoughts. You can identify your gaps in understanding and your confusing arguments. Writing is also generative. It will help you find new ideas and statements that you never thought of before.

When you have a conflict with someone, the best way to communicate it is in person. However, you should still write your message down beforehand. Emotional conversations are complicated. If you try to wing them, you’ll end up in trouble.

See the Best in People

It’s not an accident that these seven rules relate to dealing with people. Work is an inherently human activity.

Every person you interact with is going through their own life with values, worries, aspirations, and burdens. Be mindful of that when you view people. You only see people in the context of the workplace, but that’s only a tiny aspect of who they are.

Every day is bring-your-emotional-baggage-to-work day.

You’re dealing with human people who have real human problems. Every coworker is bringing this baggage with them when they work with you.

So you have a choice when someone snaps at you or does something wrong. You can snap right back, call them out, or instead, you can choose to view them in the best possible light.

“But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider.”

— David Foster Wallace, This is Water

Choose to see the best in people.

These are the rules I try to follow every day. What are yours?