We allllll have one (or in my case at one point, 5) in our working lives. You know what I mean: the person who’s uber defensive no matter how you seem to approach them. Or maybe it’s the person who constantly has the weight of the company on her shoulders while the rest of ya’ll frolick around. Or maybe it’s the person who’s always ‘doing so much’ that work is often late, messy or otherwise not acceptable to the (internal or external) client.
So, you do what the majority of people do which pretty much entails avoiding like the plague. Emailing instead of having quick clarifying convos, walking the other way when you see them at the water cooler – believe me, I’ve seen it all.
But the fact of the matter is, you do need to find a way to work with them. Avoidance or trying to be crafty in any number of ways can backfire – either by making the relationship more toxic, making the work product worse or infecting other parts of the team with the negative energy.
So, how the heck do you do this? I like to look at this as ‘what not to do’ because I think when you look at it that way, it’s pretty obvious which behaviors you’re engaging in – which may be making the problem worse. So without further ado:
- Don’t Assume It’s All Them: Yea, sure your colleagues and you all complain about this person, but did you stop and take a second to evaluate how YOU might be showing up in this collegial relationship? We all got piles of interpersonal stuff to work on – yes, including you- so this is the first thing to keep in mind. When you’re interacting with this person next, ask yourself how you’re showing up in the moment. Does your heart beat a little faster? Do you feel a little panicky? See how those internal feelings might be coloring the actual interaction.
- Don’t Jump in with Solutions: Chances are, this person has no idea they’re acting this way or perceived this way. So you pulling Sally from procurement aside and saying, “You know, Sally, you said X back there and it was perceived as Y. Maybe you could try approaching it like Z next time?” Believe you me, they are NOT going to take that well, despite your gentle tone and good intentions. Instead, be curious and not in a condescending or accusatory way. Maybe something like, “Wow a lot just happened in that meeting and it sounded like that sucked for you. I have 2 minutes before my next thing- want to talk about your experience in there? This is NOT an invitation for him to suck the air out of the room with a ton of complaining and it goes a long way toward acknowledging and validating their experience as real. Because even if you and 765 of your closest colleagues have the complete opposite experience, Problem Employee’s experience is real, too.
- Don’t Go All In To Help: First and foremost, Harry’s got to realize he’s got a problem at work, so you suggesting to “help” doesn’t jive if he doesn’t know it. Secondly, that’s a lot for one person to take on! Instead, continue to offer support in terms of acknowledging their frustration (without being their venting buddy) while offering different perspectives for them to consider. You can also speak to your manager about having a coach or external partner come in and work with him. Maybe he’s got stellar work product but is a beast to work with (I know- I’ve been there!), but the company sees lots of value in helping him out and in turn helping the company out by keeping a top performer.
Jill Ozovek is founder of The Career Passport and a certified career development coach and energy leadership (ELI) practitioner based in NYC. She works with HIPOs (high potential employees) and functional teams to help improve workplace dynamics, communication, leadership and employee development. You can learn more about her work at www.thecareerpassport.com/corporate