16

I have a long history of struggling in the workplace with interaction with others.

It's not that I don't know how to communicate effectively with people, but that when faced with a problem that others could help me to resolve quickly, I tend to dig in and spend a lot of time and resources trying to solve it myself instead, expressing an extreme reluctance to consult with others unless absolutely necessary.

As a result others have limited awareness of what I'm up to, and I don't get a lot of skill transfer from others. Even asking questions on Q & A sites like this is unusual for me.

What would be an effective strategy for overcoming this issue?

  • 4
    Are there resources like books regarding this? "List of..." qustions are generally off-topic on StackExchange sites. Could you possibly reword this to ask for a specific solution to a particular problem? – yoozer8 Jul 16 '12 at 2:06
  • 1
    I've removed that part and focused in on my main primary question - I think it stands as a request for a solution to a particular problem but if it's not suitable I can delete it. – D Coetzee Jul 16 '12 at 2:13
  • Here is one solution! – user718 Jul 16 '12 at 4:52
21

I tend to dig in and spend a lot of time and resources trying to solve it myself...

That looks like a really good starting point to acquire "asking skill". It allows you to establish a few simple and safe rules to follow. Having rules will help lower the reluctance by turning what has been an "exceptional case" into a formalized, regular routine - like shaving or regular workout in a gym.

First, set yourself a reasonable / respectable time limit for a digging. An hour or two, for example.

Primary goal here is to lower a stress by building a confidence that you put substantial effort into attempting to find solution yourself. Another purpose it serves is preventing you from looking like a help vampire, like someone permanently asking questions: this time limit basically guarantees that you don't ask questions more than once per hour or two (that's what I meant when writing "respectable" limit).

Second, after the "time limit" is exceeded, stop digging and... no, don't ask others yet... write down a brief overview / summary of what you were able to discover so far.

Primary goal here, again, is to lower the stress, to cool it down by carefully analyzing, summarizing and writing down your efforts and findings. This also will likely help making further discussing the question smoother since you will build it upon a structured summary instead of chaotic bits from your "raw" research.

Third, review your original question in the light of the summary you just made and "polish" it if needed.

Main point here is to simply ensure that you covered everything you could within given rules.

  • Somewhat tricky thing here is at this moment, you may get a feeling that improved question has an answer reachable in one minute of web search. You should follow that feeling, since suppressing it may increase stress - with the only reservation that it shouldn't led you into another hour of digging, which would in turn bring you into another round of preparing to ask others. Set yourself a "secondary time limit", really small one - 5 minutes for example. If the answer is not found, just "rollback" to where you were 5 minutes ago - summary of prior findings plus polished question.

Fourth step is, well, come to someone else and ask your (reviewed / polished) question. No need to explain what you have found or present your summary at this moment - but be prepared to quickly and clearly cover that if asked.

That's it. Just practice that routine, and the more you practice, the easier it will get.


I myself experienced the "transition" in both directions - first, from culture based on learning-from-others to one favoring autonomous-research and then back to asking-others. Have to admit, transition to asking-others went quite tough - maybe because it feels soo rewarding when you find the solution yourself. And the knowledge acquired by doing own research sticks much better in my experience. If only it would take not so much time...

  • 2
    Thanks for your response, this sounds like a great strategy to try. I like the idea of time-boxing to prevent too much wasted effort. – D Coetzee Jul 16 '12 at 17:32
2

What sort of collaborative tools are being used in your workplace? If a wiki is available, then one possibility is to take advantage of that. You could, for example, document the problem you are trying to solve and the solution(s) you are thinking about on a wiki page, and then invite others to review, comment, and discuss.

More broadly, if the problem is that you feel generally uncomfortable about directly consulting with others then that's an interpersonal skills issue that you need to try to work on as an individual. That doesn't mean you need to jump right in and start calling everyone in to meetings and presentations about what you've been doing and why. But it probably wouldn't hurt to take inventory of the collaborative tools that your company makes available to you (I'm assuming they must be using at least some) and try to find some unobtrusive way to incorporate those into your normal workflow a bit more. As noted above, this can be something as simple as documenting your work in some publicly accessible place, like on an internal wiki.

Once you start making your thought process more accessible to others you'll probably find that collaboration/consultation will follow as a natural consequence.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.