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Stop Wasting Time Trying to Get Along

Image via Olly/

I like being with people who get along. I enjoy collegiality and nice people. AND, lately I’m hearing a lot from clients about personality differences and leaders wanting to fix those personality differences. I started to think, just today in fact, that perhaps we might just get over the fact that we all don’t get along. Yes, it’s great when we do – and the reality is we are different people with different views, perspectives, ideas, and frankly, we’re just wired differently. The idea of getting us all in sync is for sure a nice idea – and, overrated if you ask my slightly less idealistic self.

So, here is the deal.  I was talking with a client last week with whom we’ve been working for over a year. Her organization is making incredible progress and is by objective standards, performing at a high level. She started our meeting talking about recent awards they’d won as an organization, individual awards won by members of the team, acknowledgements they’d received from their customers—you get the picture. All her “good news” stuff was following by (yep, you know it’s coming) a “but sandwich.”

She said, “But, we still aren’t working as effectively as we could and it seems like we make things harder than they need to be.” 

I listened. Example after example after example of the way things don’t work quite right. Then, I couldn’t resist. It came out.

“So what is the problem Jane? I hear you talking about how well your organization is doing, it sounds like things are going well. I don’t hear that there is any negative impact on performance and you have a team of people who have been here for a long time – no one is complaining or making overtures about leaving.  What would it look like to accept that how you do business works perfectly fine?” 

She stopped. Pondered the question. Then responded, “Yes, I’ve been coming to that conclusion myself.”

People (note I’m including myself here)! Who ever said things are supposed to be perfect and that organizations are supposed to operate the way the MBA textbooks (do they still use textbooks in B-school?) say they should? That is not the way the world is and the more we think it should be that way, the more we make our current way of working wrong. Our perpetual chase of “perfection” gets us hosed up and wrapped around the axel about stuff.  What if we were able to accept that:

  • Getting the work done is priority one
  • People staying in the organization provides some justification that things are OK
  • Not everyone is going to get along
  • Not everyone needs to get along

I think there would be a ton of organizational capacity generated if leaders and their teams would simply learn to accept that we are different, we are going to have “personality differences” and then, get this, simply stop talking about it. Accept it. Get over it and get on with it. Wow. We’d have a lot more time to actually get stuff done. 

One of my mentors said “energy follows focus.” The more focus we have on something the more energy it gets. Like a fire. A fire dies when it doesn’t get oxygen.  What if we stopped putting our energy into people getting along, not getting along, talking about getting along talking about people not getting along and instead talked about the work to get done. Those “personality differences” will die – like a fire:  no oxygen or energy, no fire. 

The shorter way to say all this is “get over it!”

(Image via Olly/

Sarah Agan is a regular contributor to Excellence in Government. She has spent the past 17 years working with clients across the federal government with a focus on helping individuals and organizations thrive.

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