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How to Deal With Difficult Colleagues

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Some colleagues just drive us nuts. It's the things they say or do or how they talk to us. It's not even one single thing that can summarize a difficult colleague. Some people find it difficult if others complain all the time and others if someone is unreliable.  

Everything is a matter of perception

The first thing that we have to keep in mind when confronted with a difficult colleague, is that everything is a matter of perception and everything can be reframed. If you take someone who you would say is very critical or always complaining, keep in mind that someone else might find the person has an eye for the details or is very quality driven. 

Practicing to see the other side of things - according to the development square by Schulz von Thun - can be a good way to start seeing the grey between the black and white. A good exercise is, to note down all the things that you find difficult about your colleagues. Also note down all the things you think your colleagues find difficult about yourself. Then go through the exercise and reframe the things: picky might become 'knows what he wants', critical becomes thoughtful etc. If you do the exercise together with a couple of colleagues it might be easier. 

To learn how to deal with someone who is attacking or shouting at you, it's best to have a strategy that you iteratively adjust.

Don't get emotional

Don't put emotions into a situation that you don't want to escalate. Make sure to find some excuse that allows you to leave the situation or get back to the person later on. So let's say a colleague tells you 5 minutes before you will present the project plan to your boss that he already made a better proposal yesterday and forgot to tell you. Don't explode, stay professional, suck it up for now. You can talk to the person later, when you have obviously rational arguments for why that was totally inacceptable and what you suggest for the future.

Question Yourself

If there is something about someone that drives you completely nuts, question yourself if it's you. There are some things that you might project onto others: Maybe the person reminds you of your ex-partner and by now you hate that person. Or you are a person that feels criticized easily and everything you hear from that specific person is criticism - that might have nothing to do with what the person is actually trying to communicate. Check with other people how they perceive the person and reflect on yours. On top of that, start focusing on the positive things and strengths of the person. The halo effect might just ruin the person for you. 

Talk to the person

Don't talk behind her / his back but approach the person directly. If you start bitching about the person it's not fair play anymore and will eventually backfire on you anyways. Seek the conversation and try to follow the steps for negative feedback. Keep it on the objective level and use 'I messages'.

Keep your distance...

... if all the rest has not been working. That doesn't mean that you have to avoid the person completely - schedule the relevant and important meetings. Don't have unnecessary conversations about private life and don't pretend to be best friends with him / her. 

How to handle attacks

If you feel attacked in a meeting or personal conversation, it's also good to be prepared and have a strategy for it. There are some killer phrases people are using to make you shut up or turn down your idea within a second. That would be something such as "We have to do it like that. The customer wants it that way." or "That doesn't make any sense." Try to find out what the person really wants to tell you with that and don't feel intimidated. Your answer could be something like "What exactly does the customer want. How did you find out about it? How big is the data base?" etc. 

On top of that, it's good to have one sentence prepared how to handle an attack. You could be using a sentence that confuses the other person e.g. "Look at that." or "Oh well." and buys you some time. Or you can start out with something that builds up a bridge to your actual reply - "Oh that sounds interesting, let me think about it." this one also buys you some time to come up with an answer. Pick one sentence that you feel comfortable with and start using it: If you are attacked, your brain stresses out and you might be loosing your repartee. 


How To Change Your Conflict Perception

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Quelle: Wikipedia

Quelle: Wikipedia

Conflicts are something we usually associate with something negative. We associate it with fightig, war and conflicting opinions. In a stabe relationship it's not a problem to have two conflicting opinions or to simply disagree on something. The part that actually lets a conflict arise are our emotions, interpretations and evaluations. It's the way that we handle the conflict, perceive and treat the other person. We can be appreciative and still disagree on something or just enforce what we want on the cost of the other person.  

Once a conflict is started, it starts its own dynamic. One way to get out of it, is to acknowledge the other person's emotions and resolve whatever has built up on that level. Once this is taken care of, we can espace the conflict ladder and talk about the actual subject / object we seemed to be fighting about.

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There are different types of people when it comes to conflict behavior. Everyone has their own strategy when a conflict comes up. Depending on who you are with or in which context you are in, you might choose different strategies. When we look for example at 'enforcement' we can see, that this strategy will get you what you want but you pay a price: you won't be able to maintain the (good) relationship with that person. 

Most of the times we settle on compromises. Looking at the graphics, you can tell that the compromise doesn't give you the best possible outcome and you also can't keep the relationship the way you had it. 

So how can we get to the win-win cooperation? 

Focus on the person

When you talk to someone about a topic that seems to be getting kind of hot: focus on the feelings and needs of the other person. It could be that the person didn't see himself represented in the process or not appreciated. If you notice something, directly bring it up. Otherwise the conversation will go in circles because it is not really about the subject anymore.

Find out what the other one really really wants

Many times, what we really really want is appreciation. E.g. let's say you have a discussion around working hours. Is it about the working hours themselves or is it actually about fairness, appreciation and balance? It could even be about productivity and the concern of not being able to provide the best possible outcome in the fastest possible way because you are tired. Let the other person know about your thoughts directly. Find a common ground that you can base the discussion on. Maybe both of you want the best possible outcome and fairness.  

Don't make assumptions or interpretations

We are used to evaluate, judge and interpret things. When we see someone walking into a meeting three minutes after we started, we will say "you are late". This is a judgement. An interpretation could even be "you are a mean and thoughtless person who made us wait" or "you are respectless because you are stealing our time" or "you did that on purpose to show how powerful you are". A description would have been "you are walking into the meeting three minutes after the agreed starting time". Every interpretation, judgement or evaluation can harm our team members and the relationship we have - especially when we assume or conclude the "wrong" things (it doesn't match the ones the other person as). If you describe to the other person what happened and let them know how it impacted you, you lay the foundation for a fruitful conversation.


How To Reach Your Goals

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Goals are a great motivator. They help us focus our attention on relevant things, save us time and energy. For a goal to actually get this job done, it needs to meet certain critera - otherwise it's just wishful thinking.

The criteria are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attractive, Realistic, Timely. If you make your goals smart, you make sure they are actually achievable. Many times, we don't achieve our goals because they are not smart. Think about it: What was the last goal you were aiming at? Was is a smart goal? Let's take a closer look at the criteria!

Specific

Make your goal specfic to know what it is exactly that you want. 

Example: You want to become more athletic. 

Looking at this goal from an outsider's perspective: I don't know what you are talking about. It's just unspecific. I don't understand what more athletic means, I am not sure if it's related to a change of behavior, I don't know anything. 

SMART: 'From today on, I am going jogging on mondays, wednesdays and fridays, between 7 and 8 pm, 5 km, for the next 6 weeks.'

Of course, you are expecting - as a result - to be more athletic afterwards but that is just the result of your goal. And now you might be thinking: Well, if that is a goal, then it's nothing but a do-to-list. If you think it through, that might be right. And if you think it through to the end: our whole life is a to-do-list. If we didn't know what to do to get us where we want to go, we would still be in our parents place on the couch, watching TV.

Measurable

A goal is measurable if you can put numbers to it in some way. It could be the time you spend on an activity or even the number of times you repeat a certain activity. The important thing about it is, that you measure the input, not the output. Many times, we can be certain of the activities we are planning but not of the outcome we will get. 

Example: I will become more athletic.

More athletic is still not specific and if now you are trying to measure it: How will you measure how athletic you are? Maybe if you look at the kilometers you run. But then your goal would be to run 5 km in 20 minutes - not simply "run faster". 

The same applies for any work related goal such as: Increase revenue to xy within the next months. Or improve website stabilty by xy %. Both cases give you an output-oriented number. This also relates to how realistic things are, but we get there in a minute. The measurable part aims as actually being able to measure it. If you want to improve communication: how will you measure it? Choose something that is measurable, e.g. develope ONE concept for a feedback process. 

Note: A goal is always more motivating, when it's based on learning rather than performance. A performance goal would be 'convince 5 people to buy my product', a learning goal would be 'learn what exactly makes people say yes or no'

Attractive

Most important when it comes to goals is that you actually want to achieve this goal. It happens many times, that we put an activity onto the list which we hope, would bring us to the result we desire. Many times, we don’t even enjoy the activity and also don’t get anything out of it. It just keeps us busy.

If you set your goal with a starting day 7 days ago and notice today that you haven't done anything yet, to move towards achieving your goal, ask yourself why that is. Don't feel bad because of not taking actions yet and don't make new plans around how to change your behavior to actually start it. What you should do is question whether this is actually attractive to you. 

I will give you two examples: This year I was preparing for a tournament. I was thinking, what I need to be successful is to be more fit. So I put together a very nice workout plan, put all the to-do's into my calendar (daily activities) and from the first day on, I did not do it - not even once. I made it through the tournament anyways. Eventually, I realized though, that the activities I had planned, were not attractive to me at all and I also knew - probably unconsciously - that the activities would not support my goal with the tournament. Later on I found out, that the thing I would have actually needed was't fitness but relaxation.

The other example is about a change of diet. Last year, I had some health issues and I knew they were related to certain types of food. From one day to the other I completely changed my diet for about 4 months until I was better. If I had to change my diet right now (I don't have those health issues anymore), I would have a very hard time and would probably start all over every single day. That is solely to the fact that now it's not attractive anymore. I don't have any reason for a change.

Realistic

A goal needs to be owned by you. If you are not the one who can influence it, it’s not realistic. If you set yourself a goal that requires 100 hours of input and you only have a week to get it done, it's not realistic. If you want to double your revenue and maybe just need one single customer for that: how realistic is this really? You are not able to predict anyone's decision. What you can do though is to predict your own activites and behavior. If you want to send out 100 Thank you notes, you know that you can do it. 

When you plan your goals, also check the time that you will need. Check the time of the activities you are planning to achieve the goal and also the time you need to get your other, everyday operational tasks done. One time, when I did my goals, I noticed that I would only have 20 hours in three months to get all the operational things done. It's obvious that that is not realistic. 

Timely

The timeline for your goal should be overseeable. If you know what the next three weeks will look like, three weeks is a good time frame. If you set yourself goals that are as long-term as one year, it takes you too long to enjoy your success. There are more steps on the way to this long-term goal. Define them as goals and be proud and happy, every time you reach one of them. You will be able to adjust other “meantime” goals and get a better feeling for being on the right track.

If you have a very long-term goal, you don't need to set it as a goal. Of course, it's the ultimate goal but in the end, the small milestones are the ones that count. In the meantime, it could happen, that the overall, ultimate goal is not as important anymore or priorities and context changed.

Examples

  • Contribute to open source

    • What is it exactly what you want to contribute? Why are you doing it? Is there a different way to achieve the reason behind it?

  • Learn german

    • How many words do you already know? For what reason are you doing it? When do you need german? How do you know you achieved your goal?

  • Lose weight

    • Losing weight is really hard to do. One way to get it going could be to have a goal that is rather something like: 'find a way how to lose weight without suffering'

  • Increase revenue

    • That is the output you can't influence. What is the value add you will deliver to your customers? How do you want to go about - increase reach, revenue or retention - increase touch points with potential customers? Maybe it can rather be a learning goal such as: understand why our customers buy our products?

Recommendations

  1. Come up with a learning goal instead of a performance goal. If the goal is, to learn how to do it better, the chances that you will be successful are higher. If you set yourself a performance goal and fail by far, you will be discouraged, especially if you are a very diligent person.

  2. Don't choose a goal that is overwhelming - it should be challenging but not too easy. Try to find the right measure and adjust your goal if you notice it's too easy or too hard.

  3. Double check your goal with someone who is not from the field. If they don't understand, it's probably not specific. Also, they will raise questions that let you think things through again.

  4. Double check your goal the next day. If you still like it and find it reasonable, you should go for it.

  5. Check how much time your goal will require. Think through if you actually have that time.