Unless you’re a solo entrepreneur, you have to be able to rely on your colleagues if you’re going to be successful. You need good feedback from others. You need to use the results of other people’s work in your projects. Your own reputation and advancement in an organization will depend a lot on what other people say about you.
So, how do you know which colleagues you can depend on, and which to avoid?
Observe how conscientious they are
When you’re trying to get a project done, you need people who complete what they take responsibility to do, and do their work meticulously—that is, you’re looking for people who are high in the personality characteristics of conscientiousness.
There are several signals you can use to determine whether you’re dealing with someone who is conscientious. For one, they will have a reputation around the office as someone who gets things done. So, you’ll want to listen out for the people who always seem to be mentioned by others as part of successful projects.
For another, you’ll see their level of care in all of their work products. A coworker who consistently misspells names of colleagues or clients, for example, is not taking responsibility for important details. Those small errors are a signal that you will need to check this person’s work carefully.
Finally, you want to engage with people who manage their workload effectively. Colleagues who say “yes” to everything will not be able to follow through on all of their commitments. Instead, you want to engage with people who demonstrate that they can prioritize so that when you ask them for help, you know you will get it.
Look at how they interact with others
Another key element of trust is that you will get credit for your efforts. Sometimes, your efforts are obvious, but often (particularly early in your career), you will be part of significant group efforts that are presented by someone in the organization who is more senior.
Listen carefully to how the people responsible for the work of a team talk about their coworkers. Do they consistently mention other people who played significant roles in pushing projects forward? When they talk in that way routinely, you can feel confident that they will also ensure that you get the credit for significant efforts you have made on team projects.
Similarly, listen to the way people talk about failures. It is important for leaders to shield their team from taking the fall for a failed project. A leader may work to develop someone whose skills need improvement, but the leader needs to take responsibility for projects that go awry. That means that you have to be wary of leaders who routinely blame others for failures that occurred under their watch.
Listen to what they say about others
It can be fun to have a colleague who gossips about colleagues or who complains about the foibles of others. But, there are two reasons to stay away from these individuals.
First, the people who say negative things about others are generally not that discriminating in the targets of their wrath. So, if they’re complaining about everyone else to you, they’re probably complaining about you to others. It’s best not to engage too much with someone who ultimately gets a lot of attention for saying things that could undermine your reputation.
Second, the worst of the trash-talkers often get a reputation around the office for poisoning the environment. The people that they hang out with a lot will get painted with the same brush. To avoid harming your own reputation by association, it’s probably best to steer clear.