Over the holidays I read a very interesting book entitled “The Elephant in the Room: How Relationships Make or Break the Success of Leaders and Organizations” written by Diane McLain-Smith. McLain Smith suggests an extremely interesting position – namely that difficult people in our work environments could very well be our ticket to professional growth! – As opposed to frustrations that tax our patience and drive us crazy.
We have all worked with people who simply drive us crazy for any number of reasons. They are opinionated, lazy, ignorant or incompetent. And I have to admit that in those cases I have always tried to avoid, limit contact or isolate as a defense mechanism and to limit my frustrations. McLain Smith suggests that all along I missed a golden opportunity to evolve as a leader and grow my professional tool kit. She goes on to say:
“Anytime you find yourself up against somebody who frustrates you, that person is telling you that you’re at the limits of your competence – That’s why you’re frustrated – because you don’t know how to deal with them.”
Wow – how many times have we been frustrated with a difficult colleague and were absolutely sure it was all their fault, when the reality was that we had maxed out our competency to deal, and needed to use that experience to grow?
Whether they are pushy, lazy or have not done actual work since 1980, difficult colleagues can sap the energy out of us – what if we were able to deal with them and at the same time grow professionally as McLain Smith suggests?
How do you deal with difficult people at work? What about these ideas:
Start by pointing the finger at yourself
When you are having issues with someone take a step back and make sure you are not the cause. Have you always had issues with this type of person or personality? Is it possible that you lack the skills to manoeuvre around the challenges posed by this personality type? Take a sober look at your tools and use the opportunity to grow. The next time you will find yourself better equipped to handle the challenge.
Play to their Strengths
Rather than expending energy trying to change annoying people, or lamenting the fact that they never make a decision or get things done, why don’t you take a step back and try to figure out what makes them tick? Will some encouragement or kind words keep them at bay for a couple of weeks, or are they dealing with insecurities that you could help with. If you were to help them with some of their challenges maybe that would boost their confidence and help you get things done as well – what do you think?
Focus on the actionable
There are times when difficult co-workers create hot water for us to swim in by not delivering promised work packages or by holding us responsible for something that we had no control over. Whatever the issue, acknowledge that it happened, and rather than repeating your anger with what happened and focusing on what cannot be changed, focus on actionable steps you can take to move yourself forward.
We all deal with difficult people at work – taking steps to use those situations to grow professionally and adding new tools to our leadership arsenal is very much akin to making lemonade – don’t you think?