On being thankful at work

Screenshot of people being thankful on Twitter and MAKING ME HAVE FEELS.

Screenshot of people being thankful on Twitter and MAKING ME HAVE FEELS.

Yesterday I got home, at the end of a very long and full week, to find a couple of my coworkers saying very nicethings about me on the internets. After the requisite moment of having Just All The Feels 💖, I stopped to ask myself:

Why would people be thankful to work with me?

I was not asking this in a self-deprecating way - in recent years I've been feeling enough like not an impostor to  be able to realize, hey, I'm a pretty okay engineer and I do deserve to be here. But rather I wanted to make sure I was being mindful and deliberate about how I interact with the people around me. Am I choosing to act in ways that I know will be beneficial to my coworkers?

This usually gets easier the longer you work with someone. After two years of working with the amazing Etsy ops team, I've gotten a pretty good feeling for different people's working styles, for when it's time for a good pun in IRC versus when it's time to be serious (jk, it's always time for a good pun in opsland), for what the group dynamic tends to be like. My coworkers have also gotten to know me also, such as getting an understanding of when I'm being sarcastic (apparently it can be hard to tell if you don't know me well). When you know each other well, it's easier to figure out how to make each other's work lives better, even without consciously trying. When you know each other well, it's easier to be thankful to work together.

But when you find yourself in an unfamiliar work situation, this doesn't come as easily. Maybe you changed jobs and have a whole new company and company culture to understand. Maybe you joined a new meetup and need to figure out the dynamics of that group. Maybe you changed positions or had a reorg within your current company and now need to get to know how to work with a new team as opposed to your old one. It takes time to develop trust and empathy in a new group, but there are a couple questions you can ask yourself to help understand how to better work and interact with the new people around you.

  • What are your working styles/preferences? Different people have different working styles, and that's okay - but it can really help to be able to identify these in order to communicate them effectively to others. In our book, Jennifer and I discuss several axes of working styles (such as purists versus pragmatists, starters versus finishers) but identifying little things that you prefer (or don't) during the workday can help as well. For example, when someone needs to ask me a question, I prefer that they just jump in and ask me straight away rather than leading with some chit-chat - but some people have the opposite preference. Some people might use headphones to indicate "please don't interrupt me right now", but some people just want to listen to metal all day every day 🤘🤘. You might not be able to get all your preferences met all the time, but being able to identify and communicate them to your coworkers greatly increases the chances that you'll get at least some of them met.

  • What are your SCARF priorities? I recently participated in a workshop about dealing with change and learned about the SCARF model. People have 5 domains of experience (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness), and feeling like your needs aren't being met in one or more of those areas can make you unhappy - but even the perception of something missing in one of these areas can trigger less than pleasant feelings. While all 5 domains are important, different people tend to prioritize different areas for themselves. For example, I care a lot about certainty, so having things up in the air makes me stressed out - I'd much rather have a known decision that I disagree with than no decision at all. Being able to communicate which areas are most important to you to your manager can help them figure out how to meet your needs better, but understanding the SCARF model can also go a long way towards understanding the people you work with. Discussing the model as part of a new group can help you to understand how different people approach work in addition to providing a common language for talking about experiences and needs.

  • What makes you thankful to work with someone? This can be similar to your working preferences but with an additional side of feelings. What interactions at work will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside? What could someone do that would make you say, "wow, I am so freaking glad I work with them"? I really appreciate when people demonstrate ally behaviors. It means a lot when a guy will call out another guy on something ("hey, maybe you meant 'you all' instead of 'you guys'", or "hey, I wanted to hear what she had to say, could you let her finish?") instead of leaving that all up to me. It's also ridiculously easy to cheer me up at work with a cat picture. What things can your coworkers do to put a smile on your face? Does getting kudos for a project you completed in a team meeting make you grin or make you squirm? When you think about work interactions that have gone well, what details really made those interactions work for you? Identifying your preferences here again makes it easier to communicate them, as well as clarifying your own needs for yourself.

It can be very beneficial in a new group setting to take the time to really figure out the answers to these questions. Ideally your new group will then find a chance to communicate the answers to each other somehow - if you are a manager, using regularly scheduled 1:1s with your reports can be a great opportunity for this. Maybe at one of the first few meetings of a new team you can decide to make the time to discuss working styles and preferences. Keep in mind that these preferences can be very personal, so it might not be easy to discuss them publicly in a group of people you don't know very well yet - peer 1:1s can provide opportunities to talk about these things in a smaller setting.

Either way, developing a common language and shared understanding of how you work, both individually and together, is key to helping a new team or group come together and helping to cultivate thankfulness at work.