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Why Working with Other People Is So Hard, and How to Get Better At It!

Why is it so freakin’ difficult to communicate and collaborate with other people?

We’re social animals. Communicating and collaborating is in our DNA: our brains LITERALLY evolved to do this. Not only do we like being around other people, but our survival depends on us working together and helping one another accomplish big things.

One defining characteristic of us humans: we like simplicity. We want things to be linear and predictable. But linear and predictable aren’t compatible with our large brains that are constantly wrestling with thoughts, feelings, wants, needs, decisions (both rational and irrational), likes, and dislikes.

And when you put multiple people together, each with their own complex network of thoughts and feelings, and well, you get a tangled mess.

But there IS a way to navigate this mess, you just have to think like a heist movie villain.

Invisible Booby Traps

In every famous heist movie, there’s a scene in which the thief reaches his final destination – think a museum gallery, a bank vault, a jewelry store’s fanciest showroom – the home of the sought-after treasure. There it is, in plain sight, in a glass case atop a pedestal, perfectly lit to emphasize its enormous value.

It looks as if he can just walk up and grab it. But the thief knows it’s not that simple.

At this point in the scene, the thief pulls out a special flashlight that illuminates a web of laser trip wires, the final hurdle to navigate before claiming the prize. Just one tiny slip of a hand or loose shoelace could cross one of these wires, triggering the alarm system and ruining the whole plan.

Movie thieves know that there are invisible obstacles standing in the way of their success, and that reaching their goal depends on their ability to cleverly and nimbly navigate these obstacles.

Us everyday people with jobs that don’t involve elaborate heists? Not so much. We don’t have the same trope-tested roadmap. We can’t just pull out a flashlight to instantly see all the obstacles.

We navigate many, if not more, invisible traps all the time when we communicate with other people. Let’s examine the traps in our work interactions.

Interpersonal Trip Wires

Interpersonal dynamics don't set off actual alarms (though it might be helpful if they did, to alter us as soon as we’ve tripped a wire). They do cause real harm to culture and work outcomes. These invisible trip wires are the main sources of tension and gossip in the workplace, and impede relationships and trust.

Here are some of my own personal “trip wires''.

  • I work very hard to be punctual, and get irritated when people are even a little late. If I don’t catch myself, I might jump to some very unkind, and wildly inaccurate assumptions about what’s behind the lateness, and take it personally as an insult to me.

  • In order for me to fully process information, I need to see it visually, either in writing or as a diagram or graphic of some sort. If someone is trying to communicate something important that I need to remember and they don’t have a visual, or I’m not able to make notes, I get annoyed that I’m expected to retain that information.

These are pretty innocuous examples, but both have been the source of tension at different points in my life.

Fortunately, both trip wires are easy to avoid with clear communication and understanding. So I make my preferences known to people I work with, so we can create a process that meets not only my style, but everyone’s styles, and avoid future misunderstanding.

Interpersonal “Boost Wires”

There are also invisible interpersonal forces for good out there, which I call boost wires. These are preferences and tendencies that activate collaboration and creativity, and boost relationships. Imagine if the heist thief had a superpower that allowed him to walk on top of the lasers, like a balance beam! When a boost wire is activated, the experience of collaboration and the quality of the final products go from good to great.

One of my personal boost wires is brainstorming. If I’m working with someone else who likes to bounce ideas around in a not-so-structured way, my creative juices get flowing and I get very excited and motivated. My teammates at Barometer XP also thrive from creative brainstorming, so we build in time to our meetings for this kind of collaborative thinking. And we all love it.

Bringing the Wires Into the Light

The key to avoiding trip wires and activating boost wires is to bring them into the light. In our case, the “flashlight” we’ll use is a combination of self-awareness and clear, strategic communication.

Knowing your own wires, and communicating them with others, are the critical first steps to smoother, less stressful interactions with others. Take a moment and think about:

  • What are your trip wires? (pet peeves, bad habits, emotional triggers, etc.)

  • What are your boost wires? (things that get you very excited, motivators, superpowers)

Shared experiences, like games, are an excellent way to put these invisible traps front and center and figure out how to navigate them.

If you’re ready to start finding your trip wires, join us for a free Barometer XP demo session. In 60-minutes, you’ll get to play a few of our signature games in a safe, lighthearted, and confidential environment so you can experience the transformation that comes from embracing play as a way to explore interpersonal dynamics!


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