Q: I've been reading your column for a while now and am struck by how much skill is required to deal with people. Why can't more people...

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Q: I’ve been reading your column for a while now and am struck by how much skill is required to deal with people. Why can’t more people just shape up, get along, and make it easier to work together without a bunch of tools?

A: If you find the planet you’re describing, please let me know because I’d like to live there, too.

On planet Earth, getting along is one of the most complicated challenges facing business and the human race.

We’ve invented amazing technology for nearly every area of our lives except the one our survival may depend upon: cooperation.

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We don’t have the option to live in a conflict-free world but we can decide if we’re going to increase the suffering or decrease it. All of the arguments we can muster about how unfair it is that other people drive us crazy won’t change them or improve our peace of mind.

If we slow down our automatic grumpy reactions to each other, we can take some concrete steps to improve our lives:

• Ask questions first. Don’t just assume other people are out to get you. Assume innocence and find out how often you were about to bite the head off an ally.

• Forget about defending yourself. Innocent people don’t defend themselves, and people who really attack you aren’t listening anyway.

• Get bored with power struggles and realize being right is overrated. Instead, focus on the outcome you’re after.

• Listen more and talk less. Your work will be easier and you’ll be more effective.

• Talk about what you want rather than telling people that what they want is wrong. People are often happy to give you what you want if they don’t feel like the “bad guy.”

• Stop waiting for other people to take care of you. Figure out what you want, set limits and stick to them.

• Be willing to look foolish sometimes to get what’s important to you. Few successful people will tell you they always looked cool.

The last word(s)

Q: I’m trying a new career and so far I’m not setting the world on fire. Should I quit?

A: If at first you don’t succeed, you’re normal. Anything you really love doing is worth doing badly while you’re learning.

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., can be reached at 1420 N.W. Gilman Blvd., No. 2845, Issaquah, WA 98027-7001; by e-mail at interpersonaledge@comcast.net; or at www.interpersonaledge.com. Sorry, no personal replies. To read other Daneen Skube columns, go to www.seattletimes.com/daneenskube