LIV President's Blog 2014

LIV President's Blog 2014

Geoff Bowyer, LIV President 2014 on the latest issues and topics. Read and comment.

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Seven ways to deal with a difficult person at work

Seven ways to deal with a difficult person at work

I don’t know about you but along the journey of legal life I have invariably come across in every workplace someone who is just plain difficult.  Do you work with someone that criticises everything that isn’t their idea? Or perhaps takes credit for your work? Never meets a deadline? Is prone to mood swings or just takes forever to make a decision? Difficult personalities at work come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s a rare career that doesn’t encounter at least a few ‘difficult personalities’.

Your relationships with your colleagues have a profound impact on your happiness at work and in life in general - gosh, we all just spend such a disproportionate part of our life at work so how can we deal with difficult people so they don’t make your life a misery?

Well, rather than day dreaming about a difficult work colleague being hit by a bus, or struck by a lightning bolt, accept that you need to work out strategies for dealing with the situation rather than just letting the tension build. Here are some tips to help:

  1. Keep a calm head: Don’t wait until you’re having a bad day or after a sleepless night and all that simmering tension erupts in a volcano of unprofessional accusations, mind snaps or  recriminations that can prove impossible to come back from and could even result in you being shown the door. Look at the situation as objectively as possible, work out a plan, and execute it when you’re at your best.
     
  2. Resist the urge to whine to colleagues: OK, so the difficult person has just dumped a file on your desk that needs attention ASAP and sauntered off for yet another long lunch and it turns out to be in a mess. It’s tempting to turn to a colleague and vent. But resist the urge. Getting a reputation as a gossiping whiner who can’t manage their own problems isn’t going to help your career. So take a few deep breaths and get on with it.
     
  3. Discuss the matter privately: Take a deep breath, be calm, friendly and respectful. Explain how their behavior is impacting you and suggest how you’d prefer to work. Who knows, maybe they will be surprised at how their behavior is being perceived and grateful for the chance to change it. However, they may also become defensive and aggressive or just not care at all – so be prepared and remember that at least you’ve tried. If you do manage to get agreement on a change in their behavior, monitor the situation to ensure that they stick to their commitment.
     
  4. Brainstorm with a mentor: Feeling under attack at work is an emotional situation and it can leave you feeling vulnerable and isolated. Very carefully select a mentor (another great reason to use the LIV mentor program) or a trusted peer (preferably outside of your organisation) to talk through your concerns and who will assist you to work out a course of action. Just the process of talking through these issues alone can be tremendously helpful and relieve a lot of pent up stress. Venting your spleen at the pub or wine bar is not the answer.
     
  5. Go to your manager: If you’re at the point that you’re considering leaving a job you genuinely like because of this person and none of your attempts to manage their behavior is helping, it’s probably time to take the matter to your manager. Remember, frame the conversation in professional terms and a constructive manner – how the matter is affecting your productivity, relationships with clients, progress on files. Clearly outline what the person does with specific examples, and be clear about the change you’d like to see (and don’t just demand that they sack the difficult person!).
     
  6. Avoid them: Do you have the flexibility to move into different cases or projects that don’t include them? Perhaps there’s an opportunity to move to another part of the business? It may not feel ‘fair’ to have to change your life due to this person, but at the same time you need to protect your mental health and your career.
     
  7. Start looking around: OK, you’ve tried everything and you’re still spending sleepless nights stressed about what sort of conflict tomorrow may bring. This is no way to live and can only harm your mental health. It’s time to look around for a new job with colleagues you can like and respect. Remember to take your time with the search and do as much research as you can to understand the work culture you will be entering – after all, great work environments with good management will be able to identify truly difficult people in their midst and won’t tolerate them for long.

Remember the old adage P.R.I.D.E (personal respect in delivering excellence). You are a great lawyer because of your passion to achieve and you need to be in an environment where you are proud of what you do and will achieve.

Have you had to deal with a particularly difficult person at work? How did you manage it successfully? (No names please!)

 
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Comments

Comments

Disclaimer: Views expressed by commentators are not necessarily endorsed by the Law Institute of Victoria Ltd (LIV). No responsibility is accepted by the LIV for the accuracy of information contained in the comments and the LIV expressly disclaims any liability for, with respect to or arising from any such views.

Sally Stonier
Excellent thank you Geoff. Clear succinct and practical advice I hope everyone reads it and stores it away for when required.
13/03/2014 11:26:06 AM

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