It started out as a mild surprise. I knew my numbers. I knew my accomplishments. I knew the contributions I was making to our department. So when my annual review was negative, I wasn’t sure why.
Maybe I wasn’t doing enough so I decided to make sure I did more. I doubled my efforts. By all objective measures, I had already been a very productive member of the department. Now I soared past everyone else in all the metrics we used to measure performance. Then my next annual review came along. This time it was a total shock. My review was even more negative than the one before.
One more negative review and I knew I was gone. So for the next year I worked like I never had before in my life. I was literally outperforming the whole rest of the department put together. I did more in one year than is expected of a top performer in five years.
I have literally never been more disappointed in my life than when that third evaluation came out. It was negative and I was gone. My performance on all the criteria with which we were being evaluated was far beyond anyone else in my department, and yet I was being fired.
Searching for Answers
I wasn’t worried about getting a new job. I had the credentials. I had the network. I had the reputation. But I needed to know why my best wasn’t good enough.
This sent me on a path of self-evaluation and soul searching like none I had ever experienced. My fear was that, if I couldn’t figure out what happened, then it would probably happen again. My job was such that, if you change jobs, you change cities in which you live. I had four small children. I didn’t want to be one of the dads that dragged his family all over the country because he couldn’t hold down a job.
I Found My Answer in the Strangest Place
Within a year, I found the answers I was looking for. I found them in a book. You will not believe which book it was. It wasn’t a spiritual book. It wasn’t a career book. It wasn’t a book on inner fears or deep analysis. It is a book that has been around for years and years. It is a book that some people ridicule. For me, other than the Bible, it is my favorite book in the world.
What was the book that gave me my answers to my most pressing life issues? It was How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Yes, it was that light fluffy book of cute anecdotes on how to get along with others.
If you’ve read the book, you know that nothing Carnegie says is deep or profound. Every piece of advice he gives is painfully obvious. But it is obvious things that I tripped over all the way to the unemployment line.
I remember reading it for the first time. Carnegie would explain something that we should do. I would think to myself, “That makes such perfect sense. I can see why you would want to do that. I never do that.”
Then Carnegie would explain something that we shouldn’t do. I would read what he said and think, “That’s right. It makes perfect sense why you wouldn’t want to do that. I do that all the time.”
The Rude Awakening
Then I read a passage out of the book that smacked me right between the eyes. It was a stinging rebuke given to a young Ben Franklin from one of his Quaker elders. I think it may have hit me as hard as it hit Franklin when he received it. The elder said,
Ben, you are impossible. Your opinions have a slap in them for everyone who differs with you. They have become so offensive that nobody cares for them. Your friends find they enjoy themselves better when you are not around. You know so much that no man can tell you anything. Indeed, no man is going to try, for the effort would lead only to discomfort and hard work. So you are not likely ever to know any more than you do now, which is very little.
The painful truth hit me like a ton of bricks. My negative evaluations and eventual firing had nothing whatsoever to do with my performance. Here was the reason I got fired.
I Didn’t Play Well With Others
Nobody wants you on their team if you don’t play well with others. And there is no level of performance that I could have engaged in that would save me from my blundering social self.
Stephen Covey says, “You cannot talk yourself out of something you behaved yourself into.” In a similar way, I learned the hard way that you cannot perform your way out of the hole that poor people skills can put you into. Unless and until I fixed the people skills, my performance would never be enough.
The Student Was Ready
They say that, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. This student was ready. I read Dale Carnegie over and over. I devoured every book I could find on people skills. I started to change and when I did, my whole life changed. It has been twenty five years since that painful firing. And since I learned to apply the simple principles of getting along with others, my career has been everything I wanted it to be.
How I wish, on my first negative evaluation, my boss would have been honest. He couched his evaluation in terms of my performance. He probably didn’t want to insult me. But I wish he had just said, “Jim, your performance is fine but you really don’t play well with others. If you don’t start playing well with others, we’re going to have to let you go.” I think I would have listened. I think I would have figured out how to change. Tweaking the way I interacted with the people around me was certainly a lot easier than trying to outperform them all.
We Need to Play Well With Others
To accomplish anything in life, we need to learn to play well with others. So this is the first post in a series on how to do this. We will explore how to play well with our boss, coworkers, subordinates, customers, spouse, children, friends, and casual acquaintances. Nothing I say in any of these posts will be profound. However, I believe that the lessons I learned when I realized I needed to start playing well with others can be extremely valuable for you as well. I think all of us need to be occasionally reminded that life rewards those who play well with others.
Category: Connecting with Others, Featured Monday, November 2, 2015