Difficult Coworkers? Bludgeon Them with Understanding.

photo by StarrGazr via PhotoRee

Difficult coworkers.  We have all experienced them at some point in our careers.  Maybe multiple times.  They seem to live to make our jobs harder.  Around every corner they are there to put up roadblocks on progress, bad mouth you behind your back, or just seem to live to do the opposite of what you need.

I consider myself a “people person.”  So when I encounter these types of people it almost becomes a mission for me to crack that difficult exterior.  Over my career I have worked with difficult coworkers in every job and the one thing I have learned is that you need a healthy helping of empathy to overcome these situations.

For example, when I started my most recent job, one of my duties was to work with another team to produce a very important annual deliverable for my company.  I had the content and insight and they had the know-how to package it and get it in front of the right people.  Right away I started running into issues working with this team.  For reasons I couldn’t explain they were very defensive to my suggestions, cynical about the final outcome and generally just being difficult.  They wouldn’t return phone calls or emails and would routinely escalate things over my head before talking to me to resolve the issue.  My first instinct was to push harder and be even more direct with them, which just seemed to put them further into their shell.  It got to the point where we were missing deadlines as the deadlock continued.

Finally, I stopped and took stock of the situation.  I decided to play to my strength in relationship building, which was to actively listen to them and try hard to understand their perspective.  I had gotten so caught up in meeting the deadline and producing the deliverable I had lost sight of the relationship.  What I learned was that they had recently gone through some organizational changes that left them feeling more vulnerable.  My direct approach had come off as if I didn’t trust them to do their jobs and as if I were trying to manage them.  Once I realized this, I took a step back and started to listen to them more.  I showed them that I cared about their point of view and empathized with their current situation.  I also approached our work together more collaboratively, asking more questions rather than making statements.  Right away I began to notice a change in their interaction with me.

I began getting immediate responses to my messages, they even were visibly excited about ideas that I would suggest.  Now, I would say I have one of the most productive relationships with this team and it has become the envy of many other people that work with this area.  All because I took the time to understand their perspective, collaborate and empathize.

What are some ways you have learned to overcome difficult work relationships?

About the author: Heath

Has one comment to “Difficult Coworkers? Bludgeon Them with Understanding.”

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  1. Angela DuBois - March 7, 2011 at 6:57 AM Reply

    Slowing down, stepping back. Difficult for me to do, yet effective when I’m aware enough of what I’m doing to do that. Listen. Yes.

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