In an odd coincidence last week, three different clients described the difficulties they’re experiencing because of their dislike for or distress about someone they work with. The circumstances in the three cases were quite different, but somehow produced the same result: The clients’ discomfort about their situations caused them to behave in habitually ineffective ways.
The clients’ reactions weren’t thoughtful or savvy ones that moved events forward. Instead, they were avoidant in ways that allowed bad situations to mushroom out of proportion. They demonstrated poor judgment, created unnecessary downstream costs, or succumbed to protective bluster that was meant to put others “in their place.” But these were not necessary reactions — there are alternatives that are more effective.
You May Not Like Everybody You Work With, But You May Still Have to Work with Them
If you’re finding yourself having to deal with people that you just don’t like, please consider these approaches to finding a better balance. These alternatives can help you stay on an even keel, prevent damage to your team or organization, and find the best in both the situations and the people involved.
Start by noticing your actual feelings. What are you sensing in your body? Are you having particular physical feelings in response to a difficult colleague or stressful set of circumstances? Maybe you’re clenching your jaw, or your stomach is churning, or you find yourself clearing your throat repetitively.
Next, identify your emotional state. Maybe you can tell you’re nervous, tense, or frustrated, which are often versions of fearing what might go wrong or feeling angry about what has happened. Note these feelings — there’s no need to fight them or to work yourself up over them, but it doesn’t make sense to try to pretend that what you feel isn’t there.
Remember that you’re more than your feelings. You can only control yourself. If you have enough organizational power you may be able to force someone else out or make them do something they haven’t chosen, but it’s not at all up to you how they choose to feel about it. So refocus yourself away from your feelings and toward your behavior. Even if you’re frustrated or aggravated, you can still behave well, treat people with compassion and fairness, and weigh all the necessary pros and cons in any decision you make on behalf of the business.
Reframe your thoughts to change your response. After thinking, “I’m so fed up with the way things work here and I just can’t take it!” or “I really can’t tolerate working with that annoying person anymore!” and noticing your emotional reaction, consider how a flipped perspective might look. Perhaps it’s something like, “I get so frustrated because I really want this project to go well. If I zoom out to a bigger picture or look a little further into the future, what things can I do to help this initiative succeed? Once I’ve identified these things — because this project is what I really care about — how can I zoom back in to improve the particular circumstance that’s bothering me now?”
Have challenging conversations rather than waiting for things to pass. If you see a negative pattern starting — and if, as a rule of thumb, you’ve observed a behavior at least three times, it’s likely to be a pattern — it’s time to address the problem with curiosity and compassion. Keep in mind that the other party is not likely to be aware of how you feel about the situation or the assumptions you’re making about their motives or needs. One of the advantages of holding a challenging conversation rather than avoiding it is that, in addition to potentially resolving the problem, you can take yourself off the hook about whether your avoidance of it may create negative consequences in the future.
Holding a thoughtful, professional conversation about what’s going on and what others need to be able to do better can relieve all those pressures. You may still face challenges, but both you and the other party will understand them better together. A conversation will give you a halfway decent chance that the situation won’t be so bothersome, and the other person will start to feel more like your colleague than your opponent.
Onward and Upward —