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Handling Difficult People at Work

DIFFICULT RELATIONSHIPS We’ve been talking about how to get your career on a fast track, and that one of the most significant things you can do is improve your relationships. Getting along with difficult people is a challenge, but often one we must surmount if we are going to have satisfying and successful work experiences. Last time I told you we would look at specific kinds of co-workers and clients that provide for difficult relationships. Bossy coworkers. Often people will overstep their co-worker status, and take on a managerial role, providing unwanted feedback and direction. Typically, the best way to handle this person is to say you are currently doing what the boss wants you to do, and politely overlook their comments. When you simply stop engaging, the person generally drops the commentary. Nosy coworkers. Asking where you have been when you went to a doctor’s appointment or a school conference is annoying. If you have a job interview, being asked where you have been is quite uncomfortable. Just saying, “I had personal business” is polite, but discourages further questioning. You don't owe anyone an explanation for persona; choices. If you do have a situation, though, such as a serious health issue or difficult divorce, it is important to have an early conversation with your supervisor about the implications. Loud coworkers Loud conversations, in person or on the phone, music so long it can be heard even through ear buds, playing a video or message without ear buds, and crunchy foods eaten in a shared office space are all common workplace distractions. To some degree, you have to learn to deal with the sounds your coworkers make. Your tolerance level has to grow. But if a behavior is disruptive and significantly distracting from your work, it’s fine to politely and with a bit of humor ask the person to keep it down. Credit-grabbing Coworkers In every office and line of work, there are people who will try to present your work or their ideas as their own brainchild. It’s quite frustrating when they are given promotions and room to experiment that you actually deserve. You can prevent this from happening by confidently and courteously keeping your supervisor posted on your progress, and by being vocal about your new ideas. Don’t be shy about appropriately taking credit for good work. Gossipers They people are in every office as well. If you make the mistake of sharing in their idle talk, it won’t prevent you from being the butt of conversation. If they talk with you about someone else, they will talk with someone else about you. Drama always surrounds a person who gossips, and eventually someone pays a price. Plainly but kindly tell the gossiper you try to make it a rule to not talk about anyone who isn’t present. OR, if you heard something negative about someone, simply tell someone wonderful about that person. When conflicts do arise, here are a few simple pointers on how to deal with these situations effectively:

  1. Always be polite and treat everyone with respect. Don’t raise you voice or be condescending.

  2. Focus on fixing the problem, not assigning blame. The goal is to move forward;

  3. Restrict your comments to what is or is not being done. Don’t talk personalities.

  4. Think of possible solutions before discussing the problem. Don’t just point out what is wrong.

  5. Focus on facts, not feelings.

  6. When it comes to customers, remember they may not always be right, but you must always do what’s right. It is better to lose an argument you could have won than to lose a customer.

  7. No matter how inconsiderate a customer or fellow employee may be, do not talk about it with other employees or customers. It will not solve the situation or help your reputation, Only talk about problems with people who can help fix them.

  8. Realize there may not be a solution; you may have to agree to disagree. Some things are simple tensions to be managed, not problems to be solved.

  9. Remember that conflict is always an opportunity to learn something about yourself. The simple fact is, someone else may push your buttons, but that person did not install them. Take responsibility for you, the only person you can control.

You can’t be everyone’s best friend, but in most cases you can get along, if you choose to do so.

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