Collaborating With a Difficult Peer.
I recently spoke at an International conference in Europe including a daylong workshop about communication and delegation. One of the participants asked to meet me for dinner to discuss a difficult co-worker. He is a manager and spoke to me about a peer that often fails to deliver commitments on time, thus affecting this mangers ability to complete his own commitments. When this manager addresses the situation, his associate often gets upset and hijacked causing him to yell and or disengage. We discussed some ways that he could help hold his peer accountable that will keep him engaged and productive.
Working with a co-worker or peer that is difficult is a common occurrence. Learning how to navigate this kind of relationship will be a big help in your career. Here are a few suggestions that may be helpful.
Be honest about your perspective on the relationship. Is the difficulty only one sided or are there things about your behavior that may be adding to the difficulty of the relationship? Identify what is causing the tension. Get clear about the importance of the relationship. Your ability to manage the relationship well can be a boost to your career. Not managing it well may mean you miss deadlines and commitments. It may cause more stress and frustration. It may harm your reputation. If your co-worker is well liked or connected, this could cause problems for you if you choose to ignore or not address to situation. Learning to handle the situation professionally will be a big advantage to you as you grow in the organization or future organizations where you no doubt will encounter similar challenges.
Be open-minded and do your best to see the other person’s perspective. This will help you understand why they may be acting a certain way. This can increase your empathy. Typically, people do not behave in ways to purposefully make your life difficult. They are usually more focused on self-interests, which may conflict with your self-interests. Understanding this can take the edge off of any tension you may be experiencing.
Keep asking questions. When you are frustrated or confused, asking open-ended questions helps. It helps to diffuse tension by engaging the logic center of your brain. It gives you time to think, and helps create more clarity. Avoid asking “why” questions initially. Instead start with “what,” “when,” “how,” etc. Make sure that you are interested in what the other person has to say. This will help them be more open and honest with you.
Approach them as a collaborator and not a critic or adversary. They may feel the need to defend themselves. This will help them engage with you and will facilitate better discussion and help you learn information that will be beneficial to the project and your relationship.
If you are working on a project that depends on them, meet regularly to monitor progress and set expectations. For instance, ask them when they will achieve their next milestone and if that commitment will keep them on track for the project deadline. If the deadline they suggest will not keep the project on time, ask them to validate on a scale of 1-100% how confident they are their plan will meet requirements. Certainly share how your part of the project depends on their commitment. Ask them if there is anything that would prevent them from meeting their commitment. If there is, ask them what their plan is. If you suspect it is not enough, ask them, “what else can you do?” until you are satisfied with the answer. Avoid pushing too hard here.
Remember you have your own commitments. Avoid the temptation to take responsibility for their work. Some managers in the interest of maintaining peace take on work they are not responsible for. Maybe this happened to you in school where you worked on a group assignment and someone didn’t keep their commitments. In order to avoid a bad grade, some students just do the work themselves. Avoid being derailed by a co-worker. Certainly ask them how you might be able to work or collaborate with them better. Get their perspective on what would make things work better with the project or relationship.
Understand your behavioral traits and tendencies. Learn more about the traits and tendencies of your workers. This will help you understand the nature of conflicts. It will also help you understand where you can improve on your own behavior to adapt to the different styles of your team members. Understanding your strengths and opportunities for improvement can have a positive impact on your career. Be honest about the behaviors you want to improve. Let your co-workers know what things are hard for you and what you are working on. This may help them to be more open with you about their challenges and help them to be willing to be patient with you. If you would like to discover your strengths and potential areas for improvement, fill out a request for a communication and leadership survey here.
These suggestions will take effort and commitment on your part. There is no easy approach to challenging situations like this. Taking the time to develop your skills will have a positive impact on your career satisfaction, your culture, and on your professional success.
The Author Spencer Horn, is President of Altium Leadership. Additional articles that may interest you: Are You Failing Enough?; How To Create Success From Failure; Sick And Tired of Being Sick And Tired, How To Get Your People To Change Today, The Power of Accountability, How To Defeat The ‘Fog of War’ In Business