When a colleague drives you nuts


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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    You know the guy (or maybe it’s a gal): the one who steamrolls the meeting with their own agenda item.

    You can see it coming: his eyes light up, he leans in a little bit, he’s even salivating, isn’t he?

    The next agenda item is remotely related to his pet topic.

    He’s getting ready to pounce.

    He gets his chance and then . . . BAM! He’s on a roll and there’s no stopping him.

    You send all the right non-verbal messages to get him to stop. You try to interrupt. You glance around the table and see that everyone else is resigned to the next 15 minutes (or more!) of his recapitulation. You give up and settle in, feeling defeated.

    “How do I stop that guy?” a participant in a workshop recently asked me.

    Here’s how you stop “that guy” from derailing the meeting:

    Step 1: Be Ready.

    You can’t effectively stop him if you’re not ready. Watch for signals that he’s about to jump in, uninvited. You might need to observe him in action a few times before you are fully ready.

    Think of yourself as a cultural anthropologist: your objective is to learn the characteristics and habits of the interloper. What actions does he take in the moments and micro-moments before he interrupts?

    Get to know those characteristics until they are second nature.  You’ll be better able to head him off – and you’ll be more confident.

    Step 2: Jump In, Just Before He Starts.

    You’ve studied him. You know his demeanor. You know the specific gesture he makes just before he interrupts. You’ve strategically seated yourself across the table from him so you have an unimpeded view. He leans in and adjusts his glasses, just like he always does.

    And then, BAM! You’re there. And you jump in and take control of managing the turns in the conversation. You have two choices:

    1. You take a turn yourself. That is, if you’ve got something to say.

    2. You give the turn to someone else. It sounds like this: “Let’s hear from Jeanne about how we are doing on the budget before we take the discussion any further.”

    Step 3: Redirect.  Respectfully, Of Course.

    If he persists — and he will — repeat the steps and redirect the conversation.

    It sounds like this: “Steve, I know you have a lot of interest/passion/history with this project. In order for us to address all the things we need to cover in this meeting, we need to stick to a tight timeframe to make sure we get it all in. We still need to hear from Sherry on the budget and Rick on the overall timetable first.  Sherry?”

    You need to say that with complete confidence and authority. If you waver in the slightest, he will jump right in and you’ll be back to square one.

    You might also seek the support of a confederate on this. Let someone else in the meeting, ideally one of the people you’d like to take a turn instead, in on what you are doing.  They can back you up – and be ready to take the next turn when you pass it to them.

    Your turn: Next time you are in this situation, jump on it.

    Be aggressive.

    Everyone will thank you.

    Well, okay, one person won’t.

    But everyone else will.


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    listeningsEditor’s Note: Don’t worry, this is satire.  But we do have a great resource if you need to improve listening in your organization. Check out our course listings for more details. 

    You’ve always wanted to listen better.

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    You’ve seen the infographics: listening moves your career ahead faster than anything else. And you get to keep your clothes on.

    You know it intellectually, but it’s hard to implement.

    Your mouthy mouth talks more than it should.

    If only there were a device that forced your brain to listen and your mouth to remain closed.

    After years, decades even, of your mouth prattling on with little to no input from your ears and your brain, there is finally a solution. We’re calling this patented technology “Listenings.”

    Drastically Improves Your Listening

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    Listenings amplify the intellectual process of listening and reduce the likelihood of saying something stupid. First, the patented technology moves all human voice sound waves to the front of the queue for brain processing. The prioritized sound waves are held in the brain until comprehension is complete. Then, and only then, is there capacity in your brain to formulate a response.

    Listen More, Talk Smarter

    Listenings preempt your brain from releasing unnecessary words from your mouth. In fact, all attempts at speech are cycled back through your brain for accuracy, relevance and emotional intelligence not once, not twice, but three times – thus reducing the probability of saying something asinine by more than 382%.  You’ll produce smart, engaging, relevant responses every time.

    Listenings calibrate themselves to the power dynamic of the situation. They’ll amp up their frequency around your boss and your boss’s boss. And they’ll tune out that annoying person in your office who can’t stop talking about the bad date he had in 2004.

    Listenings are designed in both women’s and men’s styles and come in a variety of attractive styles.

    Bonus: Your Spouse Will Listen Better for Just Pennies a Daypennies

    For just an additional $99 upgrade to the Spousal Listenings and give them as a gift you your significant other. He’ll be listening to you just like he did when you were dating, hanging on your every word and responding with empathy, intelligence and appropriateness.


    Now here’s the part where I quit being so silly.  ?

    Working Conversations has programs to help your staff (and yourself) to become better listeners and better communicators.  We can’t promise that your staff will improve their listening by hundreds of percentage points. But we do stand by our training programs and guarantee your satisfaction.

    Contact Working Conversations today to start a conversation about your organization’s communication needs today.

    Know someone who needs “Listenings?” Share this post with them today.

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