Pain-In-The-Neck People


There is arguably nothing that carries a more significant impact on happiness and contentment at work than ones interactions with others. Certainly, the environment within a company, the location of the work area or the conditions under which work occurs, is important. However, relationships with co-workers and bosses are even more influential. People can tolerate and even thrive in less than ideal employment conditions when they like the people around them and the work itself is interesting.

Of course, fellow employees are also a source of never-ending problems. How often have you asked a friend of yours, "how is work?" and had a complaint about a co-worker or staff person be their answer? Those who move from difficult to pain-in-the- neck status are found in most workplaces, yet they can be effectively managed. Do any of these situations strike a cord?

You work with a group of highly creative, hard-driving people. Collectively this group of professionals has a long work history and some have been consultants. They are used to being independent and fairly autonomous. They are uncomfortable with hierarchy and are likely to flout or ignore it completely. One person dislikes hierarchy so much that she ignores the reporting structure and will often go over your head to pitch an idea. This person will also question your decisions in public and appears to be doubtful of your competence. Be prepared to justify your decisions with this employee, in more detail than you are used to providing. This employee, although frustrating, serves to ensure that your decisions are well thought out and based on a firm foundation. Discuss the way in which you want questions or concerns brought to your attention. When you are unable to convince her of the soundness of your decision, you will need to remind her that ultimately it is your responsibility to call the shots and request her cooperation. In making this point be neither aggressive nor apologetic and move on. This is simply a statement of fact and the nature of your job.

You have an employee that is prickly. He is sometimes hostile but is very bright and exceedingly competent. If he does not like an assignment, he will simply not do it. You often end up arguing, and his brashness can be very off-putting.

This person needs explanation about why you assign the kinds of tasks to him that you do. Remind him that all jobs include less exciting or interesting tasks along with the plum, exciting projects. When he has a concern, he must bring it to you and not shuffle the task aside. When he dislikes an assignment, insist that he explain his reasons, which will allow you to counter with an explanation that will provide clarity. Be sure to note the difference between working with a highly skilled person who takes a little extra handling and an employee that is merely a prima donna. If the enterprise is better with the employee in it, then the extra effort is worth it. If the answer is no, then you have a different decision to make.

Your employee is always prompt and punctual. You have worked together for four years. The person is smart and very good at following instructions; however, he takes little initiative and if you forget to explain a point, he won't think for himself or anticipate. Too many times you have to explain every step of a task. People who just follow instructions may do so for many reasons. Look first to yourself. Think about how you have behaved. Does that person really know what you expect of them? The only way to determine this is to meet with the employee and get him to tell you his understanding of your expectations, his job responsibilities, the limits of his authority. You may be surprised at what a limited view he expresses. Explain clearly that you want him to make decisions, take initiative and think for himself. Be sure that you encourage, support and recognize initiative when it is taken. Whenever the person fails to take the extra step, use each instance as an opportunity to indicate what you expect by illustrating what should have been done.

Here are some additional approaches that will help you survive those "special" people.

  • Be neutral. Do not let your emotions cloud your judgment. To gain a feeling of personal power, difficult people are often skilled manipulators of other peoples' emotions.
  • Listen and inquire. Listen to the situation or complaint and request additional information until you can get to the underlying problem. Often difficult people will camouflage the real issue with a lot of surface complaints. Insist that each point be explained thoroughly before moving on to the next.
  • Set boundaries. Being willing to listen does not mean that the other person has complete control or can push you in any direction. Your boundaries might be that yelling is unacceptable and foul language ends the conversation immediately.
  • Move to conclude or solve. Once you understand the problem or difficulty, start asking questions that will give you an idea of what it would take to create a solution you can both live with. Choose questions like, "What do you suggest?" "Where do we go from here?" "Let me propose this for consideration."

Odette Pollar is a nationally known speaker, author, and consultant. President of the management consulting firm, Smart Ways to Work based in Oakland, CA, her most recent book is Surviving Information Overload. Email to share your comments, questions and suggestions: Visit us at: call: 1-800-599-8463.

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