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3 ways to become a better team player at work

Think about how often you hear a politician use the words ‘we’ and ‘together,’ note MSNBC analysts Susan Del Percio and Adrienne Elrod. These choices are deliberate, and the mentality can help you at work too.
Political strategists Susan Del Percio, left, and Adrienne Elrod, right.
Political strategists Susan Del Percio, left, and Adrienne Elrod, right.Travis W Keyes

Many bosses love an employee who is a “team player.” But depending on your personality, you’re either thinking, “Yes, I love to collaborate,” or “Ugh, I work so much better when I’m on my own.” Either way, we all know that we often need to be collaborative to be successful, so keep reading.

Being a team player is a skill and an important tool that, if developed, will serve you well. Think about how often you hear a politician use the words “we” and “together.” These word choices are deliberate, they are meant to engage the audience, persuade them on an issue or a vote and most of all, make them feel like they are part of a team.

Below is our experience. We also spoke to NBC/MSNBC political analyst and former Bush administration aide Elise Jordan, on what she's learned about becoming an effective team player.

Listen and seek input.

There is an old saying that goes, “There is a reason we have two ears and one mouth, so we can listen twice as much as we speak.” This is especially true when working in teams. When participating on a project it’s so important to actively listen to your co-workers. This means not just hearing the words they speak but processing them and giving them due consideration.

Susan’s Experience: After taking a break from political work, I found myself back on the campaign trail for a candidate. At a staff meeting one afternoon, which I was sure I was too senior for, I was replying to emails and not really listening. The campaign manager called me out and said, “you are either on the team or you’re not.”

I was horrified. I figured as long as I was doing my job, I didn’t have to worry about everyone else. That wake up call was a reminder that I needed to step up my game and really participate, even when I wasn’t the one speaking. Everyone wants to feel that what they are doing matters, and your co-workers deserve your active attention.

Be respectful even when you disagree.

Whether you are a team leader or a team member, showing respect to everyone – especially when you disagree – is critical for maintaining harmony within the group. Obviously, this means no eye rolling and no snide comments. But it’s not just about keeping quiet when you disagree. Respect requires that you explain why you disagree. This kind of open dialogue creates opportunity for creativity and brainstorming that everyone can benefit from.

Adrienne’s Experience: As a communication strategist you are always playing out different scenarios and trying to think of what else can be said. You are also almost always on deadline which is extremely stressful.

Early in my career I offered my opinion on a project during one of those very stressful times and was quickly shut down. A co-worker told me not to worry about it, but it stung. That feeling has stayed with me since that moment. Now, whenever possible, I share my decision process with my colleagues. Not only do they feel included, but they often have insights and ideas that I haven’t considered yet.

Don’t stay in the shadows, but don’t overstep.

This is a tricky line to navigate, especially when you are new to a group. Elise Jordan, NBC/MSNBC political analyst and former Bush administration aide, offered her insights.

NBC/MSNBC political analyst and former Bush administration aide Elise Jordan on the set of "Morning Joe."
NBC/MSNBC political analyst and former Bush administration aide Elise Jordan on the set of "Morning Joe."Anthony Scutro

Elise’s experience: It’s amazing how easy it is to have a reputation as a team player in the workplace, simply because so many people morph into self-absorbed sociopaths when they step foot into the office environment! If you listen to your co-workers, and make sure you figure out what your superiors want from the finished product, you will already be so far ahead of the game. While you should always be helpful and up for anything it takes to see the job to the finish line, be mindful of not being a pushover — I’ve seen hard-working women who, in the spirit of teamwork, end up doing a colleague’s job without getting the credit.

We all appreciate being valued for our work, but there is no greater compliment than being recognized by our colleagues. Whether working on a big project or working alongside other people who have different responsibilities, it is important to remember that you are part of a team. The most important trait to have for being a great team player is to be respectful and considerate.

Susan Del Percio is a New York-based Republican strategist and Adrienne Elrod is a Washington, D.C.-based Democratic strategist. Their column, "Politicking for Success," appears bi-weekly on NBC News' Know Your Value