Tip Sheet

Observe first—rather than act
Confide in a colleague as a last resort
Confront the difficult person as another last resort
Make the colleague or boss look good—by being indispensable
Don’t personalize--maybe

Almost anyone who works has run into impossible colleagues and bosses. Advice is amply available in books and on the Internet, but it takes time to read all the information. Here is a quick and unconventional tip sheet for dealing with difficult people at work.

Observe first—rather than act
The best place to begin solutions is with observations. Learn how this person treats others. Learn as much as possible about the difficult person and any reactions to him or her. Observing first can minimize hasty decisions, anxiety and regret from words that can no longer be taken back.

Confide in a colleague as a last resort
Some experts recommend confiding in a colleague about the problem. The benefit is supposed to come from testing out perceptions with someone who has also experienced the impossible person and from not feeling so alone.
However, confiding in a colleague isn’t automatically a good idea. Colleagues change, move on—or move up. They could end up as supervisors—who might also see the person who spoke up as a troublemaker, gossip, complainer or not a team player. Work-friendships often have limitations. People should ask themselves how well they really know the colleague, for how long and in what capacity. For example, consider whether the colleague has really been a friend or confided in the other person.
A better suggestion for testing perceptions and developing solutions is to talk to a trusted friend or professional who does NOT work in the office or company.

Confront the difficult person as another last resort
Confronting the difficult colleague is also often a recommendation. However, this idea, too, may not be the wisest first step. Direct approaches from colleagues rather than bosses usually end badly. The offending colleague may become defensive, belligerent or dangerous.
A better approach is to find out what that colleague needs emotionally. Most often, it’s recognition. A few ways to calm down an obnoxious employee are to:
• Include the colleague in conversations or invite to lunch
• Ask for a favor (it shows you value them)
• Give the person a task that is important.

Make the colleague or boss look good—by being indispensable
All good colleagues and employees should know what their department or project needs to succeed. Come up with solid solutions that are deliverable and let teams, colleagues and bosses know. A needed person is often a valued person who is treated with respect.

Don’t personalize—maybe
Usually, difficult people at work are difficult everywhere—but not always. It’s important for people to know whether they are part of the problem. Finding out why a certain colleague elicits such negative reactions is crucial in calming down any anxiety and anger in working with impossible colleagues and bosses. These work-related people might remind a person of key family member such as parents and spouses. This similarity might amplify and bring feelings and behaviors associated with the family into the office.

LeslieBeth Wish, EdD, MSS is a frequent contributor. She is currently doing research for her next book project on the love problems of today’s smart, career women. To participate in the project or learn more about her, please see her website, www.lovevictory.com

Author's Bio: 

My Qualifications

My work at the New England Institute of Family Relations, the first sexual dysfunction clinic in New England, and my research-based book, Incest, Work and Women (with my name as LeslieBeth Berger), earned me national recognition and honor as a pioneer in sexual dysfunction and women's love and career issues. My book uncovered the connection between women's childhood abuse and their career problems.

That research sparked my next ground-breaking project on the relationship problems of women, age 20-40+. These age groups come from the highest number of divorced or single parents. This factor, combined with increased number of professional women, especially in the fields of law and medicine, has created specific and troubling relationship issues such as disappointing choices of men, affairs and depression. I am writing this next book, The No-Nonsense Woman's Guide to Love to help women get over their mistrust, fears and unhappy, unhealthy dating patterns and learn to date and love smart! If you are interested in being part of the research, please see my research invitation above.

My education: Carnegie-Mellon U., B.A. History & English; Ohio U., M.A. English; Bryn Mawr, MSS. Social Work; U. Massachusetts, Ed.D. Adult Dev. Psychology and 3 yrs. post-graduate, Georgetown University. Family Center of the Medical School, under Dr. Murray Bowen.

My Licenses: Florida, Massachusetts and Maryland as an independent clinical social worker. I am a regular contributor to the award-winning website www.helpstartshere.org, the online magazine of the National Association of Social Workers, and I have been selected as an Official Guide to Family on www.selfgrowth.com, the number one self-improvement site on google and yahoo. I also serve as the Co-Director of The Counseling Network of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation that offers free counseling, nationwide, to military families and veterans. We help them cope with post-traumatic stress, grief and family adjustment. I am frequently cited in other national publications and websites, such as Us Weekly, The Washington Post, Vivmag.com and Women's Health.

I am happy to give a talk or conduct a workshop or focus group for your organization.

Thank you.

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