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Unhappy at Work? It Might Be the People (Part 2)

Getting along with difficult personalities at work

unhappy at work 2Do you head off to work most days with a smile on your face or do you dread walking into the office?

One of the best predictors of being happy or unhappy at work is whether or not like the people you work with. Chances are if you find your boss overbearing or your colleagues annoying you won’t look forward to a day at the office even if you love the work. Conversely, a boring job will be more enjoyable if you like the people you work with.

Today most of us spend more time on than off the clock. With this in mind, I asked several “people” experts for their advice on how to deal with difficult personalities at the office. Everyone gave me great suggestions. But, because they came from a variety of different backgrounds, everyone had a little different take on the issue. After going through everyone’s responses, I decided to create a series on How to Work with Difficult People

In the second installment of this series, is my interview with Kathi Elster, an executive coach, President ofK Squared Enterprises and co-author of Working For You Isn’t Working For Me and Working With You Is Killing Me.

CI: What are three ways to deal with a difficult boss?

KE: The best way to deal with a difficult boss is to take care of you.

One way to take care of you is to detach. This is easier said than done, but one way is to make sure that you are exercising – to release the negative energy of dealing with a difficult personality. A boss who is a grandiose or a control freak will exhaust you so finding ways to restore your energy are important.

When dealing with a boss who lies, or is spine-less, take actions to repair your emotional state like seeking short-term counseling. Don’t isolate yourself, reach out and connect with friends to get a reality check, you are not crazy.

It’s also important to rebuild your confidence.  Difficult bosses like a angry yelling boss or a dismissive undermining boss have a way of eroding one’s self confidence, so please be sure to spend time with people who believe in you like a mentor or a past boss who will help you remember who you are.

Once you feel whole again and can see that the issue is not you; then you can document your boss’s actions and take them to HR or confront your boss.

CI:  What are three ways to deal with a difficult staff member?

KE: When dealing with a difficult staff member there are a few things that need to happen:

Document incidents – there is nothing like proof. When something is black and white there is little room for misinterpretation.

Communicate what you want this person to change.  Also be open to hearing his or her side, how they see things.  Sometimes people are set up to look bad so it’s important to check out all sides.  Be sure that this person understands what they are doing that is making it difficult for others to work with them.  This may take a few explanations, do not give up, and find new ways to explain the problem until you see this person gets it.  Believe me they will eventually appreciate that you took the time to help them learn how they are hurting themselves.

Follow up and re-enforce the behavior you want to see. It’s not easy for people to alter their behavior especially if they have been doing it for a long time. It’s worth your effort to address with this person whether they are making progress or not.

CI: What are three ways to deal with a difficult coworker?

KE: Difficult coworkers come in all kinds of disguises, you may think your coworker is your friend and then you find out that he or she is talking badly about you behind your back, or you may find that another coworker is cutting you out of important emails or meetings.

It’s O.K. to confront your coworkers when you think they are disruptive or hurting you at work. But, before you confront them take these actions:

  1. Cool off – do not confront anyone in the heat of the moment, go for a brisk walk or wait till you have a good night’s sleep.  Only strike when the iron is cool.
  2. Communicate what you have to say but always take the high road. For example never say “You always cut me out of meetings” instead say “I’m not sure if I was cut out on purpose or by mistake, but in the future it’s important to me that I am included in all meetings of this kind, how can we avoid this in the future?”
  3. Set healthy boundaries with difficult co-workers. If you have an overly chatty coworker it’s O.K. to tell him or her that you care about them but don’t have time to talk till after work.  Or if you have a coworker who gossips it’s O.K. to let him or her know that you are not interested in other peoples lives.

CI: When is it time to look for a new position? Or if you’re the boss, when is it time to fire a difficult staff member?

KE: It’s time to look for a new position when the stress of your present position is making you sick.  If you are not sleeping, eating or if your emotions are running high or low, or you are feeling depressed or anxious over a long period of time listen to your body it’s telling you that this job is not healthy for you.

It’s time to fire a difficult staff member when you have tried to help this person but the results are not satisfactory.  A three-month period is usually a safe time frame to ask people to alter their behavior; if they are not able or willing in a three month period to meet your standards and you have communicated your expectations then there it shouldn’t be a surprise when you let this person go.

About Annette Richmond, MA

Annette Richmond, MA, CARW, CCELW, is a Certified Resume Writer, Certified LinkedIn Profile Writer, and former recruiter. Her career advice has been featured by Huffington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Forbes, Business Insider, Monster, Vault, and WSJ. She helps motivated, senior level professionals tell their unique career story. She also serves as executive editor of career-intelligence.com.


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