Last week, the Career Management staff conducted a webinar on “Working with Difficult People”. We had some really great responses to the presentation, as well as some great questions from the audience. Below are those questions, as well as answers from our expert career consultation staff.
Working with Difficult People Webinar Q&A – (from 6.29.18)
Q. – How do you handle a boss that is unprofessional. ie. She gossips about her subordinates to subordinates. This makes me uncomfortable because she supervised both of us. I can only imagine what she states about me to them.
A. – When dealing with a situation like this, the best thing to do is to redirect the conversation with your supervisor. Be sure to keep things as professional as possible, and not to delve too deeply into your own personal background. It is possible that she is doing this as a way to make friends or to establish a rapport with you (and is just really bad at it). However, if it continues or becomes even more uncomfortable for you, it may be worth it to speak with HR and get their advice on the situation. Remember that your talks with HR are confidential unless you choose to file a formal complaint, so there is no worry of being retaliated against for simply seeking some advice.
|Q. – What if the difficult person is your boss? What about when a supervisor is being inappropriate and difficult?
A. – Well, the best answer for this depends on the relationship and level of comfort that you have with that person. If he or she is difficult because of a situation like the one mentioned above, it may do you well to simply talk to them about it. A conversation where you clearly outline your boundaries in a friendly but firm way may be helpful.
If, on the other hand, your boss is behaving maliciously toward you, then your best recourse would be to involve HR. Full disclosure: this may make things more tense/awkward in your workplace for a while. However, involving HR would be the best way to begin documenting what is happening around you, and provides you some protection from retaliation in the event that things begin to escalate.
If it’s just that your personalities clash, perhaps you should try some tips on “Managing Up”. We have an upcoming podcast on this subject, and in the meantime, a great book on the subject is “It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss” by Bruce Tulgan – this book contains some awesome strategies for creating a better relationship with a difficult boss.
|Q. – How do you deal/respond to someone who doesn’t listen to your responses to their questions or what you are talking about? They are already on the next question to ask you or thinking about something else. I am constantly having to repeat what I had just told them or repeating what another person just said in a meeting. It seems rude and that they are not listening.
A. – This may sound a bit brash, but the easiest way to deal with this is to simply stop answering their questions for them. It is quite rude that they have chosen not to listen, but saying that outright probably won’t go over well. However, enabling their bad behavior by not addressing it isn’t helpful to them and will only serve to continue to frustrate you. Perhaps say to them that you are working on focusing more on meetings so that you can get the most out of them, and suggest that they take notes during the meetings. You could even offer to go over the notes later on and discuss, if they feel that it necessary.
As far as them not listening to what you’re saying or moving on to new questions without giving you the opportunity to respond, the best approach would be to stop talking once they start. When the person inevitably notices that you’ve stopped speaking, let them know in a kind, but firm way that you’ll finish your thoughts/explanation when they’re ready to listen. You don’t need to be condescending about it, but this is an important boundary for you to establish in order to maintain a strong working relationship with this person.
|Q. – What happens when the organization and the people in the organization are stuck in the past with their methods and they don’t approve you trying new things? This is very difficult and doesn’t change when I’ve tried to have one-on-one conversations.
A. – If you have had conversations about improving methods in the past and they have not worked, you have two options here. The first is that you can revisit the conversation(s) with a new approach – perhaps bring in some evidence that shows a correlation between trying new things and an improvement in processes or bottom line outcomes. The second would be to analyze “fit” – meaning how well you fit into the organizational culture of the company. If it has become a difficult place for you to work in, then perhaps you should begin exploring other options for employment. Feel out the opportunities for different departments in your company, or explore options for other career paths.
Q. – As a manager, how do I address an employee who is extremely blunt with her co-workers? Co-workers feel that she is abrasive and they don’t want to work with her but her work quality is extremely high. I have discussed it with her several times but it doesn’t resolve.
A. – Because you are her manager, you are in a unique position to influence these relationships. Although you wouldn’t want to be seen as singling her out unfairly, it may be a good idea for you to suggest/assign some additional training for her along the lines of emotional intelligence. Depending on the company that you work for there may be resources available through your human resources department, or you may look outside of the office for webinars, short classes, etc. A few good books on the subject that you might use as a starting point are: “Working with Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Golman and “The EQ Edge” by Steven Stein and Howard Book.