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Create strategy to deal with unpleasant situations

Posted online

by Peta G. Penson

for the Business Journal

Sharon's assistant Mark sat uncomfortably across the desk, twisting the point of his tie. "I'm trying to do the best job I can, but it seems like I'm always running interference between you and Jeff," Sharon said, rubbing her forehead. "I'll talk to him and see if we can tone the conflict level down."

Inside she was thinking it wasn't the first time she'd almost lost a good staffer to Jeff's continual testing of her temper.

Across town, Leonard took one look at his newly hired colleague, Dave, and squared off. So it was going to be new technology against old? Their offices were adjacent to each other, so they could look forward to lots of time to argue.

One exit down the freeway, Brad's terrific secretary, with whom he has an excellent relationship, tells him she's accepted a transfer from Brad's boss, Dan, to work in the LA office starting in two weeks. Brad is furious. Why didn't Dan talk to him about it? This was so typical pulling the rug out from under him.

The business of business is business, not office matchmaking. Research shows that people often do their best work in partnership with someone they dislike intensely. Look at the acrimony behind some of the Nobel Prize winners' stories of dastardly intrigue and secrecy. The realities of continuous change in the workplace can make poor relationships worse.

How can you do your best when your business partner possesses the singular gift for frazzling your nerves, eroding your temper and just plain gnawing at your soul? When you have a calmer day and your nemesis is off premises, do some soul searching yourself before it gets much worse. Ask yourself, can he or she get the job done well? If so, you'll have a tool to begin overhauling your disgust.

1. See if you can calmly analyze the trait or traits that bug you a confrontational style? A reticence bordering on catatonia? An icy tone? A la-dee-da attitude? Can you separate this from the conscientious habits your colleague exhibits?

2. What button does he or she push that sends you out of control? Make a habit of monitoring your own automatic reactions and interrupt them. If you wince and can't stand it when he sits on your desk and says "Hiya!" next time you see him coming, go out to meet him. It'll help you both clear the air.

3. Remember it takes two to tangle. There's a risk to bottling up high emotions. You push them underground and they take subtle and not so subtle shape missed appointments, lateness, gruff and evasive replies. Can you clear it up at this late date? "Bob, I know we've been getting into scraps a lot and as I think about it, it's all happened since I spoke out about your proposal at the staff meeting last month. Do you want to talk about it?"

4. Determine whether the person is aiming his or her behavior at you alone, or at everyone. Be really specific and blame the behavior, not the person. "When I asked for those sales numbers and you made a snide remark, I didn't feel like assigning you to any of the committees ... so I didn't."

5. Prepare and train yourself. Don't yell and scream, learn instead to control your anger. When your boss slams a memo down on your desk and demands to know the meaning of it, learn to look her in the eye and say calmly, "Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Show me exactly what is wrong with it."

6. If you're doomed to work with someone you dislike intensely, commit whatever you can to paper. It has the effect of distancing you. Send along a memo before your meeting with him telling him exactly what you want and expect, and after the meeting send a confirming memo. This will defuse you a bit and also make sure your actual contact is less.

7. Do a Dilbert. Try a little mental humor. "I'll put everything into a memo, which he will then misinterpret and get everything wrong anyway, but we'll bumble along and eventually get the job done."

8. Finally, if you're sure your adversary is being manipulative, cover yourself with the person you report to by letting him know the chemistry just isn't there. You don't want to panic your boss if you come up with a mediocre result. Suggest a remedy: "I think I'd do better with Jack." Don't say, "I don't like Jill."

Unfortunately, the opposite of love is not hate ... it's indifference. And that can kill off any pleasure you take in your job. So before you leap to judgment, take time to understand.

(Peta G. Penson is a senior consultant with Teams Inc.)

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When you have a calmer day and your nemesis is off premises, do some soul searching yourself before it gets much worse.[[In-content Ad]]

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