How to Get On With Your Colleagues by The School of Life

A guide to better collaboration

"To help us cope with the complexities of the office, we have on hand a discipline not often associated with the workplace and typically relegated to private life: psychotherapy"


Have you ever walked away from a colleague with your teeth clenched and your mind flooding with rage? Perhaps you feel anger for not getting recognition on a project you poured your heart and soul into, or maybe you're jealous that they got the promotion you've been gunning for. These sorts of tensions at the office can build into explosive outbursts and can, ultimately, lead you to leave a job. There's already so much tension brewing in an office environment, with all the stress and deadlines, which only feels multiplied as we're forced to spend more than forty hours per week in this fishbowl environment. 

Then there's always going to be that one person, you know the one. It's the one you gossip about, the one you can't stand, the one who annoys the absolute heck out of you. No matter where you work, you will always encounter that person who makes work all the more difficult.

I was really excited to receive a copy of this book courtesy of The School of Life, to dive deeper into how working with colleagues can be easier.

Although it took just a few hours to read this short book, I feel its impact could last for years to come. I found the entire concept of the book fascinating.

How to Get On With Your Colleagues opens with 'the need to get on with others'. The School of Life states that, “for millennia, the idea of needing to get along with, let alone like, the people one worked alongside would have sounded absurd. Work was not an arena for friendship, self-development, meaning, or pleasure.”

I found it interesting to read about the shifts in the working world, how work has gone from being primarily physical to overwhelmingly mental. 

These days, the wellbeing of a company depends on whether employees feel heard or if the manager feels they have a sense of purpose in their role. The book talks in depth about how the company will endure major costs and lost opportunities if crucial members of the team can't take criticism, if they feel demotivated, or if key figureheads can't manage the emotional rivalry between them.

The concept of the book is to use psychotherapy as a way to cope with the complexities at the office. “Psychotherapy begins with the idea that all of us are, to a greater extent, in need of its insights, for we are — often without knowing it — riddled with emotional blocks, unhelpful impulses, damaging patterns of response and self-destructive urges.”

Despite feeling mature, How to Get On With Your Colleagues lets us know that we may have the emotional age of five in relation to communication, but seventy-five in relation to empathy or self-control. 

The book states in plain terms that we are all immature.

The first chapter to really resonate with me was the one about people pleasing. "The people pleaser at first appears to be the ideal colleague and human," the book states. It resonated because I got to know not my colleagues, but myself. I am a people pleaser through and through, and found it so interesting to read about myself because I imagine that's how my colleagues perceive me. What I liked most about this, and other chapters, was that they included the origins of a particular personality type, and also ways forward. 

So, for myself, the people pleaser, although I have genuinely good intentions, when I'm not open with my thoughts and feelings, I'm endangering everyone. At work, I'm not doing anyone a service by holding back my doubt and agreeing to everything, just to please others. “We can learn to say 'no' reasonably and without hostility; we can say someone is wrong without implying that they are an idiot. In other words, we can be pleasant without being people pleasers.”

This chapter helped me a lot, because as I got to know myself, I started to think about the changes I need to make to get past this roadblock. I also found myself resonating with the procrastination chapter, which I think everyone will relate to. 

The book also covers gossip, paranoia, panic, over-optimism, and many other areas and personality types we will encounter in the office. I loved the depth of each chapter, and how I could relate each one to various people that I work with, making it ever more realistic and easier to put into play right here, right now. I felt like the words I was reading, and the exercises I was completing could be put into action immediately. 

Another key takeaway, or a wish I suppose, is that companies should invest more into these areas. 

"When it comes to interviewing candidates for positions, an emotionally intelligent corporation wouldn't just ask about universities and grades. It would also hand out prospective candidates a card containing a list of challenging emotional traits and then ask them to fill in, on a scale of 1-10 (0 not being an option), the doses they might feel themselves to possess." 

I think it would make an enormous difference in workplace environments if this became the norm. I think back to when I joined a company once and I filled in the Myers-Briggs Indicator, but once I'd filled it in, I never saw it again, and I didn't see anyone else's either. It seemed to me that this was just a HR add-on, that was so entirely useless, because it gave me absolutely no insight into my colleagues or how to approach them.

By investing more in psychotherapeutic technics and therapies, I think it could, and would, make a big impact. 

To conclude, if you work with anyone other than yourself, this is a book worth picking up. Actually, even if you work alone, remotely, the book might still resonate since you'll be sure to learn a bit about yourself, too.

About The School of Life

The School of Life is an organization built to help us find calm, self-understanding, resilience and connection - especially during troubled times. They place an emphasis on the need to understand ourselves better, so that we can secure serenity and make optimally reliable decisions, particularly around love and work. 

How to Get On With Your Colleagues is available to purchase on The School of Life website, at Indigo, and in e-book format on Kobo or Kindle. Check GoodReads for additional retailers.