How to Get Along with the Colleague Who is Faster than You

By Staff Sgt. Timothy Chacon ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Staff Sgt. Timothy Chacon ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
A swift water rescue team fans out into a V to navigate the fast flowing rapids. The leader carefully checks for unseen holes. The others slowly walk forward, providing a human barrier for the current to rush around. In the center, an area of peace is created, and the team members rotate opportunities to walk in it to rest and replenish for a few minutes.

There’s a technique to handling rushing waters to benefit the team and accomplish the goal.  And there are techniques that can help you navigate interactions with people who work faster, and differently than you do.

I remember a situation* where a colleague was coming into town for a few days. Our work styles were different. Mine includes a plan for the day, allowing space for highly creative spurts in balance with repeated implementation of administrative tasks. I’m a pretty fast worker myself, but I’m also learning to embrace slower, reflective moments and tease out time to think.

My colleague moves faster than I do. They’re up early and run on high energy most of the day, responding to things as they come up, eager to tick off the to-do list, and crashing early in the evening. They think on the run and tend to like to be in charge, much like the swift water you see in areas of heavy rapids. How were our work styles going to work for the days we worked together?  

One key–the same key used by swift water rescue teams–is preparation and mindset. I reminded myself to:

Anticipate.  I knew enough about the person to know what to expect. This helped me in thinking through an agenda/itinerary for the project since I was the host.

Acclimate. For a few days, my workflow was simply going to be different. I had to adjust. I could not expect to do everything the way I normally would.

Appreciate. I asked myself,  “What three blessings there would be in working with this individual more closely than usual?” What came to mind was creativity. Getting things done. Laughter.  I could choose to focus on those things even prior to their arrival.

Abdicate. I chose what battles would be worth standing firm for, and what I could let go of. I knew that while my colleague would appreciate my being a good host, they would NOT want to be treated like a child with no say in the schedule. So I planned opportunities for choices. For example, I’d narrow down some lunch choices to two or three, present them, and ask them to choose where they’d like to go for lunch. A plan, but not a rigid one, was just right.

Allocate. I thought through their visit and developed an itinerary that they would enjoy, allocating certain time blocks to meetings with others or particular projects that would also balance my need for some project time unrelated to their project. By making this itinerary ahead of time, I had a plan that could make us most productive and give us both breathing space.

Activate. I made a basic plan for their visit and worked it. I made sure we had a list of “must do’s” and attacked those we could finish the first day, so they would feel quick wins about the trip.

A swift water team regularly trains and learns to read the river. You WILL experience a swift water situation at work eventually. What can you do to prepare now?


*As is my custom, while many of my illustrations have elements based on my real life experiences, I reserve the right to mix and modify details and enhance with some fictional elements in order to protect privacy and prevent any recognisable association to specific people or companies.

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