Dealing with difficult co-workers is something we all face, particularly in the types of political workplaces in which many of my executive coaching clients operate.
How Sarah turned around an Idiot Colleague
Sarah, a coaching client I had been working with for six months, faced an upcoming meeting with a colleague she didn’t trust.
It turns out that, after their first meeting, Darren took what Sarah shared with him, using a template she gave him, but filtered it through his own lens.
When it comes to dealing with difficult co-workers, consider these points:
1. Look for patterns to see what’s worked before
Darren didn’t give Sarah credit for finding the template he then showed their leader; he then told a senior leader he wasn’t impressed with the work of Sarah’s team, saying they weren’t thinking proactively enough.
Sarah was now going to be having one-to-ones with Darren – which filled her with dread. She, like most of us, hated dealing with difficult co-workers.
Minutes earlier in her executive coaching session, we’d been discussing how well things were going with her boss, Rob. He was a prickly character who had been the focus of many of our earliest sessions.
I asked how she could use what now worked with Rob to equally good effect with Darren. With Rob, she had prepared a series of open questions.
Sarah realised she could do similar with Darren to get a sense of what had driven his unhelpful behaviour.
2. Ask more in a conversation than you give
When we brainstormed how she could use questions rather than answers with Darren in this meeting, Sarah easily rattled off several questions.
They might be useful for you too:
- What did you take away from our last discussion?
- What did you like about what I shared?
- What concerns do you have?
- How could we be even more proactive?
- What would you like to see more of?
After Sarah came up with these questions, she was relieved.
However, then she quickly lamented again about how much energy went into dealing with difficult co-workers – particularly those you don’t trust.
3. Remind yourself of past times you’ve dealt with difficult co-workers
I challenged her re-frame by asking: “How much did you trust Rob when you first started working together?”
She laughed and said: “Not at all!” She saw the irony, but said: “Now that I think about it, other people think Darren is difficult too! They’ve told me so.”
So I asked: “What did other people think about Rob?”
She rolled her eyes and smiled: “Other people also find him difficult too. He’s a tough nut for everyone.”
Clearly, Darren and Rob were their own unique types of ‘difficult.’ However, finding the similarities between the two experiences helped ground Sarah. It reminded her that she’d been in this situation before, and she could get out of it again.
When exploring what made this realisation important for her, she saw she could also turn this relationship around. She now had a history of working better with people she’d previously ‘written off’ as being difficult people.
Reframe dealing with difficult co-workers now by reminding yourself of who you’ve worked with in the past:
- Who would you remember?
- How did you get through it?
- What would that past memory give you now if you drew from it what you need for today?