It’s a challenging truth about the world of work: we often have to collaborate with people who aren’t easy for us to be with. These are people who, in our personal lives, we’d probably not choose to hang out with – yet at work, what can we do but grin and bear it?
The real challenge comes when these people and the situations they create are so difficult that they start to impact our health, our relationships outside the workplace, or our ability to be effective and successful on the job.
If you’re thinking this could never happen to you, stop and reconsider. Is there someone at work you’re always complaining about – someone you dread having to face? Or perhaps there’s someone you like well enough, but who seems to suck all the energy out of the room, so you end up avoiding them whenever possible.
According to Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster, the experts who wrote the book Working With You is Killing Me, everyone will encounter at least a few people like this in their professional lives. Part of the coping process they recommend includes the following five questions which, in their experience working with thousands of clients, can help you turn the situation around.
- What’s actually happening?
The problem may seem obvious, but just saying “Johnny is driving me nuts!” isn’t an answer to this question. Be specific!
- What are the facts?
When we get upset or anxious, it’s easy to slip into exaggeration. Step back and take a look at the reality of what’s happening.
- What part is the other person playing in this situation?
This question is all too easy to answer – but again, be careful to stick to the facts, and just the facts.
- What part are you playing?
Not so much fun, perhaps, but every situation with two people involved has, well, two people involved, both of whom contribute to the situation. Be honest!
- What are your options?
The answers to the first four questions will help change your perspective, and new options are likely to become clear.
Crowley and Elster recommend writing your answers down or reviewing them in conversation with a trusted colleague. Simply thinking about your answers won’t get you out of your habitual thought patterns enough to see new options.
It doesn’t take long to work through these five questions. And the results can help you turn around a tough situation with a difficult person faster than you might imagine!
Recommended training resource: Katherine Crowley is a Harvard-trained psychotherapist; Kathi Elster is an experienced business consultant. Together, they host the CRM Learning-produced training program based on their book Working With You is Killing Me: freeing yourself from emotional traps at work.