Newsletter by Barbara Mintzer

Barbara Mintzer's Newsletter
The Power of a Vision... a Leader's Journey

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September 2006
Dealing with Those Difficult People at Work

It can't be September already. Wasn't it just June yesterday? Hard to believe that vacations are over and it's back to work and back to school for some. A number of people have shared with me that they don't mind going back to work after their vacations, as they love the work they do. They are not, however, looking forward to dealing with some of the people in their workplaces. It's the old saying: "I love my work, it's the people I can't stand." If you are in that situation, what can you do to minimize the friction and bad feelings that may have been aroused, so that work can be a place of purpose and productivity? This Newsletter will focus on four powerful strategies you can use to help you take the "high ground" when dealing with difficult people at work.

1.  First and foremost, take a deep breath and remain still.  When someone at work is getting on your nerves and all you want to do is tell him/her off, it's time for a "time out." Take a deep breath (don't forget to breathe out) and remain completely still so that you can process your feelings before you speak. The deep breath is to get some of that negative energy out of your system and give you more of a sense of balance. Take as many breaths as you need to calm down. Walk out of the room, leave the premises if you must, but keep breathing deeply until you have calmed down. Only then can you create the space for appropriate ideas to come to you as to what you must do next.

The thought that comes to you after you have calmed down is called "second thought" as it is usually not the first, highly reactive thought you had, but the one that you have been trained to listen for when you are calm enough to hear it. That is the thought or idea that would be most appropriate for you to act on. 

I discovered this technique about 30 or 35 years ago, but it seemed so silly at the time. What a waste of time and energy. I was highly reactive at that time and I wanted to "take care of business" when it happened. So, if you said something to me that I found offensive, I was right there letting you know how I felt. If there was unfinished business that needed finishing, I would jump right in even though waiting a while longer would have been much more appropriate. Now, 30 or 35 years later, I look back and realize how counter-productive that behavior was. I was always reacting and apologizing; reacting and apologizing; till I got sick of it and decided there was another way. Being still and allowing second thought to penetrate is that way. Believe me, I am still reactive, and I fight this battle with myself all the time. However, I know when I allow myself the time and patience to just be still and wait for another way of handling the situation, I am always better off.

2.   See the growth experience waiting for you in this situation. This is hard to see when you are dealing with a difficult person. However, when you wait awhile and handle the situation with grace and dignity, there is much to be learned. We cannot change other people's behavior, much as we would like to. Ask any woman who has been married for awhile! What we can do is change how we REACT to that behavior. I know with my husband, if I react when I am really angry, and I talk to him in what he calls "the prosecutor" tone of voice, I get nowhere. Not only will he not respond to me, he won't even give me eye contact. His whole body language says "get me out of here NOW" and nothing is accomplished. But, if I cool my heels, sit with my anger awhile (a root canal is easier for me) and wait till I calm down, I can then approach him in a voice he is willing to listen to.

Every time I am able to control my impulse to lash out, and I wait until I can handle the situation with grace and dignity, I feel I have grown immeasurably as a person. In a personal relationship, you can always kiss and make up. You don't have that luxury at work. Things said in anger and haste can come back to haunt you when you least expect it. I have worked with enough companies to know that communications at work can make or break a company. Resentments that have not been aired peacefully; grudges that have been held for years; covert acting out to embarrass or hurt another person; these are all the behaviors of companies tht eventually go under. Don't let this happen where you work. Be willing to confront caringly, compassionately and appropriately and watch yourself grow in the process.

3.   Let your strengths work for you when you are going through a tough time. If you are not feeling particularly good about yourself because you are having a problem with someone at work, be sure to compensate for this by doing the work you do best. I wrote one of my best Newsletters when I was having a difficult time with an employee. I was not feeling good about myself, blaming myself for a lot of the misunderstandings we were going through, yet disappointed and angry at her at the same time. It was just at this time that another Newsletter was due. I completely threw myself into the Newsletter, doing all my research, putting the Newsletter together, and I really liked the results (if I must say so, myself). More importantly, it reinforced for me that I may have flaws and insecurities in some areas of my life/work, but I have strengths and talents as well. We need to know what our strengths and talents are, and use them particularly when we are in a situation that brings out a lot of insecurity and self-doubt about ourselves.

4.  Have the courage to take an honest look at yourself. Are there things in your personality, beliefs or behaviors that cause you to get into difficult situations with others? Do you unwittingly provoke confrontations or negative feelings from others towards you? An honest look is hard to do, because none of us likes to think that there is something we do that causes another person to dislike us. But, if you are getting a strong reaction from one person, or the same reaction from a number of people, it is time to step back and assess the situation. If you cannot think of what it is you are doing, be willing to CARINGLY ask someone for feedback. You might say: "I'm aware that I did something to upset you, but I just don't know what it is. Would you be willing to tell me what I did so that I can rectify the situation and learn from it as well." It takes a lot of courage to say that...but that is taking the high ground and doing it with grace and dignity.

Now, when you ask for honest feedback, be willing to accept it. It may be hurtful to you when you hear it, but if someone is willing to go through the uncomfortability and embarrassment of telling you, take in what is said. Even if what they are saying feels unjust or overly critical, guard against becoming defensive, and just take it in. Go back to the first point in this Newsletter and take a deep breath and remain calm until an appropriate response comes to you. The give and take, the back and forth you have with the other person is the fine art of negotiating. This is the strategy companies and COUNTRIES use to get to the peace table and work things out. You can do that on a smaller scale at work.

If someone is angry at you and unwilling to tell you what is wrong, you cannot force that person to open up. However, if you have caringly asked for feedback and the offer was not accepted, you have done all you can do. When a person is unwilling to let you in, he/she is punishing you for a crime you have no idea you committed. That is not fair and you have to let it go. Unless it interferes with your work. If, by the other person not letting you in, he/she prevents you from doing the job you need to do, the situation should be brought to management to be worked out. Hopefully it won't come to that. It has been my experience that people really do want to get along. Work is a place of social interaction and, for some people, the ONLY social interaction they have all day. Once you work through the situation you are in now, you will feel so much better about yourself, the other person, and your workplace in general. I hope these four strategies will be of help and value to you.

We have had a lot to think about in this Newsletter. If you wish to pass it along to a colleague or a friend, feel free to do so. If that person would like to receive the Newsletter, e-mail me with the address, and I will put in on my database. I am now booking speaking engagements for the coming year. If your company, organization or association would benefit from my message, please let me know. If you would like me to keynote an upcoming Conference, or would like me to work in-house with your staff, I would be happy to discuss this with you.  If your budget is limited, we can find ways to creatively work that out.

About the Author

Barbara Mintzer is a nationally-recognized speaker and consultant with over 30 years in business and healthcare. She speaks from experience! Her how-to programs provide participants with immediately applicable skills and strategies for getting buy-in and commitment from staff and staying on top of their professions in today's competitive and constantly changing workplace. Barbara presents keynote talks and breakout sessions for international, national, regional and state Conferences. She also conducts management retreats and in-house seminars. She facilitates panel discussions and roundtables and can be a master of ceremonies for your next event...a good investment for your meeting budget. To explore the possibility of having Barbara speak at your next event, or work with your staff/leadership team, please contact her office.

Phone: (805) 964-7546
FAX: (805) 964-9636

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