My younger sister texted me the other night very upset that she was passed over for a management position. The shortened version of the story is that she felt the most qualified for the position, yet the interview process involved two ladies talking to her about her personality weaknesses instead of giving her a fair shot to really show them she was the best suited candidate for the position. She later found out that a co-worker had told them that their personalities did not meld well together and didn’t think she would fit the role because she was “strict”.
This entire story reminded me of a time in my life where I was also very strict, dry, and down to business all the time. I also found it extremely difficult to deal with anyone who was overbearing or who threw their perceived authority around like a sledgehammer. DNA is powerful!
Anyone who is a great supervisor, leader, or manager has one core principal in common. They understand and adapt to the different personalities they encounter. Every employee has different motivations, situational responses to stress, and communication habits. Great managers don’t expect others to adapt to their habits, they bend to meet the needs of their individual employees. This is because great managers know that the only thing they can really manage is their reactions to the different personality types in the office. This is also why great leaders look at how a great manager interacts and blends into the culture of the workplace. If you expect the employees to change to meet your needs, you will end up unhappy and the morale of your team will be so low, everyone will find it challenging to invest themselves in their work.
This is the info I gave my sister. Don’t get upset. Take this as an opportunity to get introspective and grow. I recommended the book, “Dealing with People You Can’t Stand”. The most humbling experience I had in the office to date, was to know that there are people that just can’t stand the way I react to certain situations. Some people just won’t like me in general! That was a hard pill for me to swallow, but it made sense as there are just some types of people I find it challenging to deal with myself. Here are a few ways you can diffuse most situations at work and create a much better, happier, and healthier atmosphere for yourself.
Practice empathy. Most of those people you can’t stand will be awesome people if you get them away from the situations that make them turn into jerks. Otherwise, how could the same people who become awful in the workplace have families and friends that love them? Too often we want to label someone as challenging, when they only become challenging in certain situations. Try to be mindful that this person isn’t difficult all of the time. It helps to create a list of times those people have been helpful, caring, giving, and extraordinary. Most times you will find that they are honestly easy to get along with most of the time. In fact, they are so great to get along with that the times they are
difficult really stand out because it is so rare. Don’t focus on those rarities.
Recently I worked with a group where one employee in general had been isolating other employees by becoming snippy when he was asked for help. It became so bad the entire team started to avoid him. When the issue was finally confronted in a constructive way, he hadn’t even realized he had been lashing out. The other 95% of the time, this guy is an amazing co-worker, but that 5% of the situational responses was overshadowing everything else that was great. We worked with the co-workers to be more communicative during times they felt offended, and to realize that these lashings were only situational, and that needs to be acknowledged. With the “lasher” we worked on ways he could take time to be more proactive with responses instead of reactive. Instead of immediately responding, take a breathe and think, “Is this the message I want to convey?”. Everyone involved was extremely responsive to changing the things they had power over…THEMSELVES! Within a few days, the comradery was back, and everyone was very communicative and productive!
Listen to learn and not to respond. So often in office settings we find ourselves waiting to prove our worthiness by trying to interject our knowledge without fully listening to the people talking. Everyone has valuable input. Even if the person doesn’t really know what they talking about, you can take the opportunity to provide them with your specific expertise when you have fully listened to them. The seasoned vets and the kid straight out of college, has the potential to teach you something you don’t know. Listen, carefully and you might just get a nugget of wisdom that you have never had before.
Learn to laugh at yourself. A good sense of humor goes a long way in the workplace. Often times we meet that one co-worker who just loves to make jabs. Some days they are funny, and some days they are hurtful. Almost everyday they mean well, and this is their way of showing respect and admiration. However, sometimes this joker might take the jab at the wrong time, like in front of a boss while you’re giving a presentation. Laugh it off. That being said, if you are being harassed sexually, or are experiencing bigotry, that’s just not funny. If this happens, immediately approach your supervisor or HR manager. One on one jabs can lighten the mood, but disparaging an entire group of people will always create harm. Just don’t allow it in any form.
Create firm boundaries for yourself. Decide what is and isn’t acceptable for you, and be firm in not allowing people to cross that boundary. If a boss yells at your for making a mistake and that isn’t OK with you, politely but firmly tell them that they crossed a line and you will not be spoken to in that manner. Most of the time, we get angry with others because we feel they take away a sense of our power. A boss belittles us in front of a group and we become angry at ourselves for giving away our power, so we take it out on the boss (usually by whispering to trusted co-workers how incompetent our bosses are). It’s not fair to other people when we don’t let them know where our lines in the sand are. Most people want to give and get respect. Some of those people just have no clue where another’s boundaries are so they walk all over them. It’s up to you to draw your line in the sand. Stop waiting for people to read your mind. Yes, sometimes a boss will get unhappy with you and find a reason to let you go just because you stood up to him. This is rarely the case in my experience, but if that happens, trust me, you are dodging a bullet. Nobody should be put through the hell of working for someone who doesn’t want to give respect to their employees.
The hardest part about growth is the necessary task of introspection that has to happen. Sometimes we find that the person we can’t stand to deal with is really ourselves. We think we are weak, flighty, or unrelatable. So know who you want to be. Understand that regardless of title, authority, or pay, you are a unique and beautiful person. You are beautifully imperfect, and so are your co-workers. Allow others to make some mistakes just like you will. You work does not define who you are, yet it is a part of who you are. Find your balance. Take a breathe. Listen intensely and choose your responses carefully. Put yourself in others shoes, and take a look from their perspective. Most importantly, define your boundaries clearly. State calmly and proactively that you and your time will be treated with respect.