If the questions I receive from readers are any indication, we need more help with working with difficult people:
• My coworker repeats my ideas at meetings and doesn’t credit me;
• My project involves work from other groups who are slow in getting things done;
• My colleague asks for a minute but takes an hour…
We all work better with some people more than others, so here are five tips for working with the difficult others:
Minimize the interaction.
Make a specific correction.
If you’d rather not avoid the issue (say, you have to work with the person regularly) then the opposite tactic is to identify the problem issue and make a specific correction. If a coworker asks for a minute but takes an hour, stop her at one minute – I’m sorry but I’ll have to end our chat. I really only had one minute. Then turn back to your work. You may need to keep doing this but eventually your chatty coworker will find someone else or learn to keep her interruptions brief.
Appeal to a broader mission.
If you don’t think a direct request from you will correct the problem, then make your request about the overall project or the levels above you. For the coworker who’s late on getting things done, remind him that his numbers are for the sales presentation, not for you. Or mention that your boss asked for the sales presentation, and you need his numbers before you can finish. You’re not admonishing him for being late, or trying to fix the issue, and you’re not asking him to help you specifically. You’re both just trying to get work done.
Adopt a long-term plan.
Sometimes the issue isn’t so cut-and-dry, and you may have to take multiple steps over the long-term. Take the colleague who steals your idea. Step 1: verify there is a problem. Did your colleague really steal your idea? Maybe you both came up with it separately. Maybe she didn’t realize she failed to mention you and would be happy to credit you when the idea comes up for discussion again. Talk to your colleague before assuming there’s a problem. Step 2: determine how you want to resolve the problem. Do you want people to know it was your idea? Do you want an apology from your colleague? If she stole your suggestion for the holiday party theme, the stakes are lower than if she stole your marketing campaign for the big client. Make sure you focus on the problems that matter. Step 3: ask for what you need and when. If your colleague is going to credit you for the marketing campaign then it has to be the very next time it’s discussed. Your colleague can simply add a thank you to you for coming up with the idea when she brings it up again. Step 4: follow up as needed. If your colleague does give you credit at the very next meeting, great. If not, you’ll have to take further action. It could be she just needs a reminder. It might be you need to credit yourself with the idea when it comes up again.
Change your mind.
Something’s only a bother if you let it bother you. While some difficulties should be handled directly, sometimes the ideal solution only involves you. You can change your mind about whether or not a colleague is difficult, and in so doing remove the difficulty yourself. If a colleague’s complaints get you down, yes, you could ask your colleague to refrain from complaining, or you can resolve to just nod politely and forget everything said once the conversation ends. Difficult person but not difficult for you.
What has worked for you in dealing with difficult colleagues?