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Tips for better workplace relations

Posted by Popular Ombudsman on December 18, 2009

Who’s the thorn in your side? Whether you’re dealing with a cold-as-ice cousin or an overbearing boss, figuring out what drives irritating behaviour can smooth out the roughest relationships.

A week ago, I found myself admiring the people-managing skills of my daughter, Bianca. She works in advertising and, with huge helpings of grace, had successfully handled a very aggressive and irrational client. As she told the story, I wished I had her natural ability to stay calm and think clearly when stressed.

Unfortunately, not all of us have an in-built talent for managing our emotions. It can be difficult to keep your cool when another person annoys or frustrates you, and it can seem even worse when that person has a vastly different personality from yours. I’d never behave like that! you think to yourself, as he or she quietly drives nails into your sanity.
If you avoid family get-togethers or particular colleagues at work because of difficult personalities, you aren’t alone. People commonly seek out psychologists for help in dealing with others.

Most people tend to fall back on avoidance strategies, but if you’re around your nemesis on a regular basis, this approach doesn’t have long-term promise. (Sooner or later, someone’s going to find you hiding in the broom cupboard!)

You can’t realistically try to change the behaviour of your difficult other; although it’s easy to transform someone’s looks with a new hairstyle, it can be a little bit trickier to make over a personality trait. However, taking the time to work out why someone behaves in certain ways can overhaul your relationships, increase your tolerance and reduce your impulse to flee the scene.

Here’s how to start to understand other people’s unfathomable behaviour, along with a few useful strategies for getting along.

They seem: Angry and impatient
They have little emotional stability
Such people may be unable to manage their emotions when under stress. This can be a sign of anxiety or insecurity.
Survival strategies

* Validate his or her feelings—”I feel this might be a difficult time for you.”
* Assist where possible—”How can I help?”
* Show respect—”I admire you for facing this issue.”

They seem: overbearing
They may lack agreeableness
These people may appear unfriendly, uncooperative and lacking in compassion; they often seem antagonistic—even hostile.
Survival strategies

* Be supportive—”I can understand why you would feel that way.”
* Agree to disagree—”I don’t feel the same way, but I appreciate your point of view.”

They seem: lazy or uninvolved
They are low in conscientiousness
These individuals may find it hard to be organised and may lack self-discipline or persistence in pursuing goals. They may come off as unmotivated or disinterested.
Survival strategies

* Be hard on the issue and soft on the person—”I know you’re not lazy; shall we create a tighter structure so you can work on this project one task at a time?”
* Boost his or her sense of competence—”Let’s book some specific training so you can move ahead with confidence.”

They seem: cold or disinterested
They could be an introvert
They usually dislike big gatherings or lots of chitchat.
Survival strategies

* Choose a quiet place to talk—”Let’s sit over here so we can talk one to one.”
* If you’re an extrovert, stop talking! Introverts prefer to think before they talk, while extroverts like to talk first, think later!

They seem: self-centred
They may be too eager for the ‘next big thing’
Those who focus too much on new experiences versus reality can come across as impractical and self-absorbed—causing problems for people who are more grounded and practical.

Be pragmatic—”How could you practically apply this concept to your job?”
Be supportive—”You are very good at …”
Be straightforward—”Great idea, but given our other priorities, we can’t work on it now.”

Remember, nobody’s perfect. Try to have an awareness of your own personality traits. (Could you be someone else’s difficult person?) Ask close friends and family what they think about these five factors and where your own personality might fit. Self-awareness can lead to self-management. Get to know yourself, and there’s a good chance you’ll grow from the experience and develop more tolerance for those around you—which can only be good for anyone in your circle of friends and family.

If all else fails, use these ‘keep cool’ tips:

* Set a limit on how much time you intend to spend with a challenging personality, and stick to it.
* Use humour: if someone is getting under your skin, picture something funny to help change your mood.
* Remember that genetics control about 50 per cent of who we are. If you can’t fix a problem, acceptance can bring peace!
* Take a few deep breaths to calm yourself down.
* If you really can’t stand it anymore, excuse yourself and head to the bathroom to gather your wits!

By Paula Robinson, registered psychologist and senior partner at the Positive Psychology Institute.


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