Have you mastered the art of working with a difficult Teammate? (Workplace Conflict Series 1/3)
There is always that one person you work with whose job is to make everybody’s life just a little more difficult. They show nuanced passive-aggressiveness by hinting at what they dislike instead of having clear communication, they take credit for wins they have not contributed to, they dole out blame unfairly, they provide misleading or incomplete information to make your work more cumbersome than it has to be. They can also display their difficulty in more obvious ways — raising their voices, ridiculing, complaining, and showing an overall foul attitude. This person may behave this way either because they are unaware of their actions or because they know exactly what they are doing and simply do not care or cannot control it. Do you know who I am talking about?
If you find yourself working with somebody who is making your job more stressful and you do not have the power to separate from that person, there are still actions you can take to ameliorate the situation.
It all begins with a clear conversation to increase understanding. Here are helpful tips when approaching your discussion:
1. Assume you do not know instead of jumping to conclusions. Management Professor at Babson College Allan Cohen says that it is human nature to make assumptions about other people’s motives, even when we lack real evidence. It is how our brains work, but this shortcut does not always lead to the right conclusions. Instead of assuming that somebody is trying to make your life more arduous, you can ask: “I don’t know what is going on, but whatever it is, would you like to figure it out together?” “I noticed when I share my opinion, you talk over me, and I’m unable to finish my thoughts, I’d love to learn more about that behavior and how we can work together more effectively.” When you are curious and sincere, you can uncover information for the best resolution.
2. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt. It is usually true that each person will think the other is being a jerk and that they are trying to hurt, embarrass, or upset one another. But what if this was not true? In that case, it is best to apply curiosity and turn the discussion into a learning conversation so you can get to the root of the behavior. When you assume the best intentions, you are more likely to approach the situation with an open mind and be receptive to the information for real change to occur. There is something important about entering a conversation and putting aside your frustrations and emotions at the moment to think about how you can serve the other person while also handling yourself well.
3. Understand the person’s motives. Asking empowering questions can help you understand your teammates’ motives so you know how to work best with them. Questions such as, what else is going on for you right now or what is motivating you, can be illuminating. When you inquire about their interests, motivations, and priorities, you get a better sense of their perspective and can learn about what causes their behavior and how you can work with their style and intentions.
4. Label the person’s behavior. Neil Rackman, President of Huthwaite Inc. examined the difference between an expert and an average negotiator and found that experts are more likely to label other people’s behavior and confirm their understanding. If somebody starts yelling during the conversation, you can take a step back and call out their behavior. “It seems like yelling is one of your favorite motivational strategies. Do you think that is going to be effective here?” This approach puts them in a logical frame of mind so they can recognize the behavior and adjust. You can also take a break by saying, “It seems like we may need a minute (in a calm, monotone voice), I’m going to get a cup of coffee, would you like one?” Taking those few minutes will allow each of you to regroup and reenter the conversation in a more productive way.
5. Adjust your expectations. It can be helpful to know that sometimes people are not going to behave well either because they are having a bad day or maybe they have never been given the tools to learn how to handle themselves well in a professional context or as human begins in general. For whatever reason people do not show up as their best selves or maybe their best is not good enough, it is helpful to adjust your expectations. You cannot assume that somebody has the same experience, tools, training to handle situations well or in the way that you would.
6. Provide choice. If you find yourself in a tough conflict, you can offer a choice by saying the following, “We arrived at this moment because we may have had different expectations, and now that we have run into the issue, here are some options I can think of to resolve the dilemma, which one do you think is best?” When you present them with a series of options that you are comfortable with, you give them some control over the process and it makes a difference because people love choices.
The key to dealing with conflict on the team is to retrace the steps to see how you got here, see each other’s perspective, build understanding, and move forward together on a more productive note. When you are curious and approach people positively, you may be pleasantly surprised.
Quote of the day: “Show respect even to people that don’t deserve it; not as a reflection of their character, but as a reflection of yours.” — Author Dave Willis
Q: How have you handled a tough teammate? What’s your favorite strategy for achieving peace with them? Comment and share below; we would love to hear from you!
[The next blog in this series 2/3 will focus on dealing with a difficult boss]