Hmm…a tad extreme, maybe? Ok, maybe a little. After all, you’ve never actually planned out the “accidental” death of a coworker, have you? Neither have I…but anger has definitely risen out of a few frustrating circumstances. In reading “how-to’s” of best ways to deal with frustrating coworkers, I can see I’m not the only one, but most of these self-help articles only suggest ways in which you can make things comfortable enough to work with them in peace….which is a noble goal, don’t get me wrong, but don’t you want to do more than just TOLERATE that person? Don’t you want to work with each of your coworkers in a way that is beneficial to you both AND beneficial to your employer? I know I do!
Now, to be fair, I don’t have a LOT of fellow employees – it’s just George and I most days, but we DO have teammates that we call on for some of our projects (see our team page) and we also work with interns that we hire from AIMS college here in Northern Colorado – some of whom don’t share much in common with us at all, except for their love of video.
For those of you who know me, you know I don’t back down from a confrontation. For those of you who don’t know me, now you know – I don’t back down from a confrontation. I have a very “A” type personality – I’m large and in charge, and I know it. Some would say that makes me a grade A jerk, but that’s only a small part of my personality – I’m also a Jesus freak, a neat freak, a good teacher, a fairly good listener, a positive thinker, detail oriented, easy going, a good public speaker, a good wife and a good mother… and a good friend (I think). But just as we all do, those great character traits, taken too far, can be a negative. If I always think positively, I may not be thinking realistically. If I’m easy going too much of the time, it can easily turn into laziness. Etc, etc…
The man I love and own this business with is almost my complete opposite. That’s where working together gets “interesting”. Because of that, I’d like to talk about a few ways we can do more than just tolerate a person in our lives who seems like our complete opposite:
- Recognize the positive and negative aspects of that person. Make a list of not only the things that bother you about that person, but also the things you like about that person. This may be hard to do if you’ve been complaining about them non-stop ever since you or he/she was hired, but it’s really important for you to establish this person in your mind as a well-rounded person. They aren’t ALL evil ALL the time. That’s impossible, unless your coworker is ACTUALLY satan. So, make that list and make the pros and cons as balanced as you can.
- Recognize the positive and negative aspects of you. That’s right. You. I learned this from a marriage counselor years ago, and though that marriage failed, the session I had alone with this pastor taught me soooooo much. After I complained profusely about my husband (who was an awful person), he asked me “Ok, what have you done wrong in the marriage?” I was livid!! This man was about to leave me for another woman – leaving me as a single mom with no child support! How could I have done anything wrong???!!! After I calmed down a bit and began honestly making a list, I realized, as we must all, that no relationship is one-sided. If there are problems – in ANY relationship – chances are you are both to blame in different ways. So - You’re going to make this list just like the other list – as balanced as possible. Pat yourself on the back for your pros and regretfully, but honestly, scratch out that list of cons about yourself. We all have our issues – be truthful about your own.
- “Don’t sweat the small stuff, sweetie.” That’s exactly how my mom used to put it and after 2 failed marriages she had learned that to be very true, so she passed it on to me. So, now take your pen and cross off some of the “cons” you have listed for both yourself and your co-worker. So, he smells like a wet dog rolled in dirty socks. It’s annoying, but is that really worth fighting over? Or losing your peace over? Not really – get an essential oil diffuser for your desk so that you can dampen the stench and forget about it! That’s the kind of stuff I’m talking about – cross it off and just decide that there are ways to work around it! If it’s not worth a confrontation, then it’s not worth being on your list.
- See some cons as a complement to your weaknesses. What I mean by that is that some of the things that really irk us about another person are really just personality traits they have that you don’t – it’s that opposite thing. For instance, George is very “big picture” and I am very detail oriented. I can either look at his trait as annoying (which it can seem that way sometimes), or I can view it as a strength for our team – while I can’t dream up big ideas, he can. And after he gets that big idea, I can work out the details.
- Plan your confrontation. Confrontation is not a dirty word. It’s a healing word, as long as you do it correctly. This is not a FIGHT, it is a RECONCILIATION. Ask this person to lunch in order to talk about how to work together in the best possible way you can. And I would phrase it just like that – maybe with more words to clarify, but I’m just suggesting that you make it clear to them that while at lunch you’ll be discussing how best to work together, so that your coworker isn’t lured in by the idea of a social lunch only to sit down to lunch and be surprise attacked with a list of grievances. As you ask that person, also tell them – in full disclosure – that you’ve made a list of pros and cons, but the pros far outweigh the cons and ask them if they can do the same for how they feel about you. Give them a fighting chance. At the lunch, practice 2 confrontation techniques – “sandwiching” and “mirrored listening”. With sandwiching, you start with a positive statement regarding the things you like about them, then move to things you struggle with and would like to come to some sort of compromise on, then finish with another positive statement regarding how you really do enjoy working with them and look forward to mending fences and making it so that both of you enjoy working with each other more. Sandwiching makes certain that their first impression of this conversation (and you at this moment) is positive and that their last thoughts are equally positive, but in a way that they still understand there are problems that need to be addressed. It’s a way of dealing with the problem head on without making it all negative. It’s positive reinforcement. Mirrored listening is where you “hold the floor” (or fork, or whatever you decide to use) and only you can speak. If you explain this beforehand, it might seem silly at first, but it will prevent angry disruptions. You, and only you, can talk while the other person must listen. After you get done talking, they get a chance to “mirror” what you’ve just said: “Ok, Angie, what I hear you saying is…” and if they rephrase it incorrectly, you can say “Oh, no, that’s not what I was trying to say at all! What I meant was…” and you get a chance to clarify, and then they get a chance to mirror again. Once your side is completely spoken and understood by the other, it’s their turn to hold the fork (or whatever object you chose) and flip it so that only they speak and you listen and then repeat what you hear them saying. This whole process is going to be a little uncomfortable, but it’s SO important to voice your concerns and for them to voice theirs. I think so many problems in relationships can be undone if we simply speak the truth kindly, listen well, and form solutions. Which brings us to the last item of business…
- Implement change. No one likes change. In fact, I hate it…I won’t even let George change the layout of our living room furniture. It’s bad. I have problems, I know. But after that awkward confrontation, hopefully you made an action item list of things you need to do and that other person needs to do in order to promote compromise and a better work environment. So do it! Neither of you will be perfect at it at first – we’re all human and have our usual habits that stick to us like glue. Experts say it takes about 4 weeks of deliberate action before that thing becomes a natural habit, so really work hard during that 4 weeks. Hopefully you’ll both work at it, but EVEN IF THEY DON’T, don’t let that dissuade you from doing the right thing. You’ll feel better about yourself and your boss (and/or clients) will most likely see your effort and applaud you.