Plays Well with Others

Barker, Eric. (2022). Plays Well with Others. New York:  HarperCollins.

In a conversation with Richard Sheridan, CEO of Menlo Innovations, and author of two books, Joy, Inc., and Chief Joy Officer, I asked how does he hire people for his company?  Rich’s response was, ‘Kindergarten skills: can they play well with others.’ It started me wondering about how to put JOY back in schools and learning.

Barker’s book starts to answer part of this question by opening my curiosity.

The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Relationships is (Mostly) Wrong. Then this quote, Henry Thomas Buckle once said: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events: small minds discuss people.”  So, I started tracking conversations.  As stress increases, blame assignment seems to be the prevailing topic.  The secondary trauma that exists in schools and organizations sap energy, reduce creative options, and may result in fewer positive outcomes.

Schools have been dealing with compliance issues for decades.  It is one of the reasons I wrote Compliance Cop to Culture Coach.  What has been the results by the laser focus on compliance? See summary at

George Vaillant is quoted in Playing Well with this: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.” Our relationships to others make or break our lives.  So, how do we get back to relationships as the foundation for learning?

One suggestion is to become aware of ‘confirmation bias.’  We tend to look for things that confirm our prior beliefs rather than consider the belief might not fit all cases. We get caught up by what Epley says,  “Survey after survey finds that most people  tend to exaggerate to extent to which others think, believe, and feel as they do.” The book goes on to say our brains are lazy.  The brain is a pattern making device and likes things that fit previous patterns.  Sometimes we must challenge common accepted beliefs to say, ‘this may not fit the pattern.’  What does this outlier mean?

Think of students who don’t learn from “best practice.”  Research can identify some of the best ways to learn and teach for a majority of students.  My question is always, ‘what do we do when a student doesn’t learn from best practice?’  The more repertoire we have, the better a teacher, leader, etc. will be able to assist in learning. The best educators I have observed are those with the widest repertoire.  Marshall Goldsmith’s book titled, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, is a good example. See

This surprised me.  When we can hear someone but not see them, empathic ability declines only about 4 percent. When we can see someone but not hear them,  the dropoff is whopping 54 percent.

Numerous studies have shown we have a bias against noticing our biases. We remember hits, we forget the misses.  And we all do this.  Yes, even you. No one thinks they’re the problem, and that’s problem. Being self-aware is hard.  I suggest making sure you have people you trust around you to keep a check on us.

So, how do we resist confirmation bias?  Three key steps:

  1. Feel Accountable
  2. Distance Before Decision
  3. Consider the Opposite     

Without the above strategies, you are right only 70 percent of the time, max. The result is that your negative judgments about people will be less reliable than your positive judgments.

Here is some more information I found worthwhile. Amigo impact in the office is no less significant.  Less than 20 percent of people see their manager as a “close friend” but those who do are 2.5 times more likely to enjoy their job.  Do you have three pals at work? Then your 96 percent more likely to feel happy about your life.

Overall, friendship variables account for about 58 percent of your happiness. Work by Julianne Holt-Lunstad found that loneliness affects your health the same way smoking fifteen cigarettes a day does.

Friends are important for many reasons.  My definition of a friend is, ‘someone who I am glad to see, and they have no immediate plan for my improvement.’  They are there through the good times and the bad times.

Friends expand us.  Unite us.  And as far as our brains are concerned, the people we care about truly do become a part of us. As long as you feel emotionally safe and you’re getting a positive reception, share more.  That’s how you build “another self”.

Beware of those who want to be your friend but have ulterior motives. “Frenemies” are often worse than enemies.  Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychology professor at BYU, found that frenemies (the formal designation is “ambivalent relationships”) increase anxiety and drive your blood pressure through the roof even more than true enemies do.  Why are frenemies more stressful than enemies? It’s the unpredictability.

For narcissists, ‘getting ahead is more important than getting along.”  The irony is that narcissists are so full of themselves yet lack self-awareness.

The book includes research by John Gottman who can predict whether marriages stay today with 83% accuracy.  He looks for four areas of communication.

  1. Criticism – Complaining is healthy for a marriage. Complaints often begin with “I” and criticism often begin with “you”. If a sentence starts with “you always” and it doesn’t end with make me so happy,” it’s probably a criticism, and you can expect your spouse [colleague or student for that matter] to respond with both barrels. Turn your criticisms into complaint. Address the event not the person.
  1. Stonewalling – is when you shut down or tune out in response to issues your partner brings up. Stonewalling conveys “you or your concerns are not important enough for me to deal with.”
  1. Defensiveness – “No, the problem isn’t me, it’s you.
  1. Contempt – is the single biggest predictor of divorce that Gottman found. Contempt is anything that implies your partner is inferior to you.

            Calling them names, ridiculing or putting them down are all examples.  (Yes, eye-  rolling is one of the worst things you can do in a marriage, and that is backed by         data).

How many of us have seen eye-rolling in meetings?

Gottman realized that the most important thing is a 5 to 1 ratio of positive to negative.

Couples headed for divorce typically have a ratio of 0.8 positives for every negative.      

Technology can do many good things.  It also can be a cause of stress and anxiety. One concern for many educators, parents, and employers is the individualistic culture and the residual consequences from COVID.  Let’s quit blaming everything on COVID.  Get over it.  What do we do now? As Goldsmith coined the term, FeedForward.  Now what do we do?

In our individualistic culture today, status is on its way to becoming synonymous with self-worth, and as Prinstein points out, this isn’t a great recipe for happiness.  A 2010 study of over fourteen thousand college students noted a 40 percent decline in empathy over the past few decades, while a separate study  (“Egos Inflating over Time”) found scores on the Narcissism Personality Index increased by almost 50% between 1990 and 2006 among a similar cohort. Heavy TV viewers are less happy and have higher anxiety.

Famed biologist E.O. Wilson once said, “People must belong to a tribe.” This is why creating a culture for learning is so important to our long-term survival and security. The community aspect  is paramount.  You lived longer only by spending time with those you really knew and felt close to. “The more you think happiness is a social thing,  the better off you are.” You can get happier.  But to rise, you must  first think of how to lift others.

Barker closes with this: There’s an old African proverb that says,  “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”  I have gone fast for many, many years.  But the road is much longer than I thought.  Fast isn’t going to cut it anymore.  I need to go far. Can we go together?

To move forward we will need collaboration from many points of view. This book has some very good strategies and the research to support working together.