When a colleague drives you nuts

fitbit-wrist

The following blog post is excerpted from my new book Head On: How to Approach Difficult Conversations Directly.

Martin loved his new FitBit. And everyone in the office knew it. Co-workers adored Martin. He was friendly and outgoing and a dependable colleague. And in the past 12 months, Martin lost over 50 pounds and became very focused on his health. He had another 30 pounds to go to reach his goal weight and he was very motivated. The whole office was incredibly proud of him. And then he got a FitBit and began tracking his steps.

In his role as an account manager, he spent most of his workday on conference calls with clients and colleagues in other locations. Once he began  wearing his FitBit, he became  obsessed with getting as many steps in each day as he possibly could. He began taking his conference calls on his headset while walking around. If his work area had been all offices with closed doors, that might have been fine. But Martin worked in a sea of cubicles. As he walked up and down the cubicle hallways on his conference calls, he talked. Loudly. Coworkers were distracted as they tried to focus on their own work, amidst the sound of Martin’s roving voice.

While complaining to others and ruminating about the situation are tempting, neither one will change the situation for the better. In fact, both can do damage. Ruminating reinforces the frustration and anger you feel about the situation, causing you to unnecessarily relive it and reinforce it in your brain. Not helpful. Complaining to others not only marks you as a complainer, there’s also a good chance your negative comments will get back to Martin and do damage to the relationship.

What should one do, rather than ruminate or complain to others? Approach the situation head on, of course. Let’s start with how you might use the head on approach with Martin, the walking, talking FitBit fitness fanatic:

“Martin, I know your health is extremely important to you and you must be very proud of the progress you’ve made in taking better care of your body. Your FitBit is a new addition to the mix  . . . and as you take your “walk and talk” meetings, you come by my desk frequently talking rather loudly. It’s distracting to me and is interfering with my work. Can we schedule some time to talk about it and come up with another solution that works for both of us?”

What situations with colleagues drive you nuts? 

Check out my new book Head On: How to Approach Difficult Conversations Directly for more case studies and specific techniques for addressing difficult situations. 

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    argument

    Doug and Jenny were at it again.

    Another staff meeting where Jenny and Doug were on the opposite sides of the same coin: Jenny, advocating for an engineering schedule that was realistic and didn’t compromise the health or safety of her crew and Doug, fiercely arguing for a faster delivery to their clients.

    It went like this every week in the project management meeting.

    Morgan, the project manager, had spoken to each of them privately just before the meeting.  They each shared a genuine desire to be more amicable and see the situation from the other person’s point of view before reacting.

    Publicly in the meeting, their behavior was nowhere near amicable. It was the same pattern repeating itself. Again. Their pattern was not one of sharing respectful differences.  Rather, their behavior was unprofessional and ego bruising, their words like daggers.

    Frustrated, Morgan spoke to each of them privately after the meeting. She had to get to the bottom of this disagreement before it put the project in jeopardy.  How could they have earnestly promised to comport themselves more professionally and then act like small children throwing sand in the sandbox?

    Doug and Jenny were caught in an unwanted repetitive pattern or (URP), a sequential and recurring episode of conflict that is considered unwanted by those in the conflict (not to mention those around them!).

    URPs develop because two people have fallen into a pattern or script that demands each of them to behave in a conflicting manner. Often, the pattern one person is following serves to fuel the negativity of the other and the other person follows a pattern of responding in a negative manner.

    Doug and Jenny, separately, both told Morgan “I couldn’t help it, I had no choice but to stick up for [the customer/the engineering team].”

    Doug and Jenny will continue to enact their URP until the script gets interrupted. Either one of them could deliberately choose to behave differently or Morgan could choose to structure the meeting and the conversation such that the URP doesn’t get a chance to take hold.

    URPs are difficult to stop and change. The first step is to identify that they are occurring in the first place. Where do you experience an unwanted repetitive pattern and how might you interrupt the script?

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    information-hoarding

    information-hoardingJeannie worked at ACME Corp in a field with government regulation, and although the regulations were slow to change, she and her department were expected to keep on top of them.

    Jeannie was pleasant and fun to work for. She always had a kind word and a question or three about the family and other topics of importance to her colleagues and direct reports.

    After several decades with little change, a variety of factors both political and economic, prompted rapid and swift change in her industry.  Regulations changed. ACME Corp needed to change too.

    A team of six people reported to Jeannie during this somewhat turbulent time of changing regulations. Over the years, Jeannie had divided up tasks and responsibilities among her team members in such a way that none of them could clearly understand the “big picture.”

    Her employees were keeping abreast of the changes in the industry and regulations and that, in turn, prompted questions from them. They needed to see, more and more, how their work was interrelated and how the changing regulations impacted the processes they followed.

    “No problem, don’t worry yourself about it,” was always Jeannie’s reply when her team members asked even routine and basic questions about the bigger picture. “It’s my job to worry about those things.”

    But it became more and more clear that if Jeannie was worrying about those things, she wasn’t letting on.

    She held the purse-strings on organizational knowledge tight and her emotions even tighter.

    The more the industry and the organization changed, the more tightly wound Jeannie became.

    Senior leaders at ACME became aware of the situation. It was the perfect storm that they hadn’t seen coming: Jeannie was heavily invested in the organization (her professional identity hinged entirely on her current role and ACME) and she was faced with significant changes in her field and she hadn’t kept up.  Her tenure with the organization and her information hoarding yielded power disproportionate to her position.

    Senior management feared firing her because of all the organizational knowledge she held.  They feared the status quo even more: a breach in compliance could cost them their license to be in business.

    So they coached and prodded and pried. But they could not crack Jeannie. She was a tough nut.

    And she was a liability. So they “re-organized” her right out of the organization.

    Withholding information, the tactic Jeannie clung to in hopes of job security, was eventually what “done her in.”

    Where do you see information hoarding? How is it compromising your team or organization’s success?

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