August 26, 2022 • By Dennis Beaver
We’ve all had a co-worker, boss, family member, neighbor – you name it, someone who just makes life miserable. And, who hasn’t pulled out more than a few hairs from total frustration dealing with the chaos they create?
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a handbook of instructions on managing unpleasant people? Well, there is and it’s called “Getting Along: How to Work with Anyone (Even Difficult People),” by Amy Gallo, published by Harvard Business Review Press and hitting bookstores in September.
It is just a great read and Amy describes situations we have all been in. (I even saw myself in the book – both as a victim and one very unpleasant person, me!)
I sat down with Amy and discussed the things that most of us do wrong when faced with impossible people – or people who we think are impossible. She provided a by-the-numbers approach on what not to do and ways of heading off major confrontations.
1 – Suppress Your Emotions
The result? If we do this long enough, we are likely to explode. Well-meaning people often say, “Just ignore it, suck it up!” But the problem with that attitude is that, later on, emotional leakage occurs and we express feelings in unproductive ways because we just can’t manage them any longer, or take them out on an innocent co-worker or family member.
To avoid that, psychologists recommend these steps to plug your leaking emotions:
• As you feel your anger increase, take the time to ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” Name the emotion.
• Next ask, “What thoughts are causing these emotions?” Our thoughts drive our emotions. If you can correctly identify the thoughts that are impacting your emotions, things become much clearer.
• Finally, analyze whether you viewed the event that upset you objectively. Be careful to not let your brain fool you into believing that you are always right.
2 – Retaliate! Fight Fire with Fire!
Consequences: By matching their behavior, you intensify the feeling of being on opposing sides, rather than by giving the dynamic between you a chance to change. Retaliating also makes you look bad in the eyes of co-workers, and may even violate your values. You want to act in ways that you can feel proud of, not that you wish you could take back later.
3 – Hope that your colleague will just leave the organization.
Result: You end up biding your time rather than taking steps to improve the relationship.
Thinking, “Great! If they leave, everything will be much better!” may be flawed as the problem could be with the organizational culture itself, well beyond the ability of co-workers to address or cure.
Often, the system is the problem – one that encourages bad behavior. Incentives might be rewarding the wrong things. The culture might be toxic. And if you are in that type of a work environment, everyone is better off trying to create a workable situation with colleagues instead of just hoping that things will improve on their own.
4 – Assume that the reason your relationship isn’t working is entirely their fault.
Result: We fail to see our role in the dynamic which is the only thing we can actually control. By placing the blame entirely on them, we fail to ask ourselves, “What role have I played in this disagreement?”
Thinking that we have done nothing wrong makes it difficult to find solutions. It becomes an “all or nothing” event, where we make ourselves powerless to influence a resolution.
5 – React in the Moment! Don’t analyze what happened or why you feel this way.
Consequences: Our brains are hard-wired to protect us. We often make snap judgments about what is going on around us and how to react. Often our responses are flawed because we have not taken the time to evaluate the various issues that have led to the conflict.
Allowing time to pass gives us the ability to see things more clearly and less defensively. Time additionally permits the gathering of information, which can either strengthen our case, or prove to us that the other person was in fact correct.
6 – Tell them that they are the perfect example of someone who is (passive aggressive, a political operator, pessimist, credit thief – you name it.)
Consequences: You may make them even angrier and defensive which is unlikely to lead to any behavior change. Rather that labeling them, it is best to describe your observation of their behavior and the impact this is having on you. Engage them in a discussion about their perception of what happened and why they did what they did. They may have a rational explanation that you did not see.
7 – Give up after one attempt to resolve the issue.
Consequences: You miss out on an opportunity to turn the relationship around.
View your efforts to resolve the problem as an experiment where you try different approaches, and learn along the way what works and what doesn’t. One attempt – no matter how valiant – rarely solves the problem!
8 – Think, “I am not a difficult person! I’m the easiest person in the world to get along with.”
Results: We are terrible judges of our own behavior and our impact on other people. At one time or another, we are all difficult people. Therefore, be charitable, take the time to try and understand why that person is acting the way they do.
Amy concluded our interview with an observation that applies to us all:
“None of us are our best selves all the time. Empathy for your co-worker and what they are going through is rarely a waste of time or energy.”
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.