We’ve all experienced colleagues that have been somewhat ‘challenging’ to work with – from the rude or abrupt, to the dismissive and nonchalant. We see them coming and would rather run and hide… or maybe a round in the ring! But when we have to collaborate with someone to meet our goals, most just put on a brave face and endure the pain.
Unfortunately this isn’t the best way to deal with challenging colleagues, as our brains are wired to constantly search out threats or rewards, and when feeling threatened (in this case by a colleague), our cognitive function and connectivity reduces, as we get ready for the ‘fight or flight’. This is a concern that I coach many clients through.
The other day a client (Sam) excitedly shared that she had completely turned around her relationship with a difficult colleague – and it felt like a miracle! Their relationship had been strained for years, even though they collaborated closely together. This colleague was stubborn, didn’t consider the customer, and didn’t listen to other points of view. Sam found it overwhelming to constantly butt heads, but had to work closely with the person on a regular basis. It was clear that something had to change, as it was exhausting and taking away from the rest of her responsibilities and priorities.
So, how did Sam transform the person she dreaded speaking with into someone with whom she can have constructive discussions that feel easy and productive?
Instead of attempting to change her colleague, Sam changed her approach to her colleague and, as a result, the relationship dynamic. They’ve now been able to productively discuss challenging topics and, while they don’t always agree, they come to solutions they can both feel good about. Those same conversations that Sam previously dreaded are now valuable!
It can be frustrating to have to work with difficult people, who can cause tremendous drama and strain to those around them. It’s also common for relationships like this to create significant negative consequences to the business. And expecting people to change – particularly since they’ve often gone unchecked for years – can be futile.