Workplace Dynamics Expert Explains How To Work With Difficult People

A dismissive remark from that know-it-all department head or a sneaky remark from that passive-aggressive colleague can send our brains reeling with emotions, anger, and internal dialogues that can consume our days and even nights. According to a study by Georgetown professor Christine Porath, 80% of people who were victims of rude behavior lost their work time because they were concerned about the incident, and 63% lost their work time trying to avoid the person. Besides quitting the job, what can we do to navigate this inevitable office dynamic? To answer that question, I turned to Amy Gallo, an expert on workplace dynamics, associate editor of Harvard Business Review and author of the new book Getting Along: How to Work with Everyone (Even Difficult People).

According to Gallo, most working adults spend more time with co-workers than family, and all those hours together means more time to reflect on their work and the people that come with it. When we have good relationships with our peers, it has a positive impact on our performance and our lives. When these relationships go wrong, there can be negative repercussions throughout our lives. Gallo shares that peers and family members who lend us a helping hand often become victims of what she calls “emotional junk” when they absorb our stress. If we want to protect ourselves and those around us from the consequences of a challenging colleague and be more effective in our job and life, we need to improve our ability to handle these situations more effectively.

Why do small remarks have such a big impact on us?

I asked Gallo why a little smack from a boss or a sneaky comment from a colleague affects us so much; why can’t we just shake them off and move on? She shared: “When we rub shoulders with someone else, we perceive it as a threat to our identity, our sense of harmony at work and even our careers. And when our brain or body senses a threat, we go in fight or flight. Whether we’re being chased by a bear or receiving a scathing email from a co-worker, our bodies respond the same way.” She also shared, if someone makes a comment that contradicts our perception of who we are — how such as “I thought you were cooperative, I was clearly wrong” – it can challenge our sense of self and make our minds spin (“I’m not like that, right?”) as we try to make sense of what just happened to understand.

How do we stop brooding and move forward?

Gallo shared that when we’re on the receiving end of our colleague’s perceived bad behavior, we often tell ourselves a story about what happens and why. “These stories are often filled with emotion and criticism — feel real when they’re based on our brain’s attempts at meaning rather than fact.” When we want to step out of our stories and choose a response that can build our relationship, rather than them To destroy it, we must create what she calls mental space. She shares that the first step is to check that our basic needs are being met. Did we sleep enough? Are we hydrated? Are we in the right mindset to get this work done, or are we so exhausted that we need a good night’s sleep first? In the book, she provides a brilliant mental checklist to go through.

The next step is to adopt a curious mindset and examine what we don’t know about this situation, the person, and our possible role in how things are going. Gallo says, “If you’re serious about resolving conflicts with a colleague, it’s important to acknowledge your part in the dynamic. No matter how difficult a person may be, we have always played a part.”

The Eight Archetypes

Do you have a difficult colleague with whom you are looking for a breakthrough? In her book, Gallo presents eight archetypes, each representing one of the most common types of difficult people.

Some of them are:

The insecure boss

The pessimist

The know-it-all

The victim

The passive aggressive peer

For each, it provides background information to understand what might be driving the behavior, thought-provoking questions to ask about yourself, and the dynamic, concrete tactics to try, phrases to use, and do’s and don’ts. Although she provides these archetypes, she cautions against labeling others because it prevents us from seeing the whole person. The types are meant to be a starting point as you get curious and start working on changing your workplace dynamic.

The principles for getting along with everyone

Gallo shares that some people don’t fit a certain type, so she shares nine general principles you can use to get along with anyone. These principles are great reminders to read when you are faced with a challenging dynamic at work or at home. Here are a few:

Focus on what you can control

Don’t waste time trying to convince your colleague to switch. Instead, focus on what you can do differently.

Your perspective is just a perspective

Acknowledge that you and your colleague don’t always agree. Are you wondering what if I’m wrong? What assumptions am I making?

Don’t make it me vs them

Instead of thinking you’re fighting them, imagine standing on the same side of the table and working through this together.

Be – and stay – curious

Adopt a growth mentality: Believe that you have something to learn and that momentum can change.

come clear is the google map for workplace dynamics. It helps you to easily know your destination and the best route. If there is and will be an accident, it will help you to find the best alternative route. It’s guaranteed to help you navigate through or around your biggest workplace obstacles.

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