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Marketing Viewpoint by Ruth Winett

Billy the Bully and Other Difficult Co-Workers

Every work day you interact with a number of people; some help you do your work, and others hinder you. How can you work with colleagues who undercut you or prevent you in other ways from doing your job? Following are a few ways to work well with difficult co-workers.

Steve the Quiet Saboteur: This person is rarely confrontational but manages to withhold information or delay completing work that you need done to meet your own deadlines. Find out why the person misses deadlines. Ask if you can help him. Show Steve how he or she will benefit from working with you to meet deadlines. Then, jointly create a schedule that gives him a series of interim deadlines. Publicly praise the person when he or she succeeds in meeting a deadline.

Adam the Angry: At a previous job, I had to calm our furious CEO, who panicked when he had to substitute for my manager and meet with an important visiting client. I reassured Adam and outlined what information the client needed. By quietly and confidently focusing on an action plan, not the person's frustration and anger, you can defuse tense situations.

Nadine the Naysayer: This person routinely responds negatively to new ideas. For example, "We have never put patient records on the computer." Another variation is, "We can't do it because it won't work...." Your challenge is to help naysayers see that they will benefit from the changes. By asking, "What can we do to help you make it work?" you are empathizing and identifying the root problem. Nadine may be worried about lacking computer skills. She may need training.

Bill the Bully: Bill needs to see that you are not afraid to speak up about his unacceptable behavior. If Bill tries to take over your meeting, stand up, look at Bill and say, "We have to move on. We have to prepare for the users' meeting next week." Focus on the behavior, not the person. Redirect the conversation. Mention the goals and tasks you share.

Eventually you have to respond to problem behavior in the workplace. You should respond to the behavior, rather than criticizing the person. Remind the offender of the goals you share. Be positive, and demonstrate that the person will also benefit by taking corrective actions. As a last resort, have a conversation with your boss and/or someone in Human Resources. Finally, management must model good behavior and make it clear that this is what management expects from everyone.

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