Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Seven Ways to Deal with the Co-Worker Who is Driving You Nuts

OK, time to fess up. I don't care how nice you are, there's someone at work who is driving you nuts. It's either the guy who clips his fingernails while on the phone and leaves the droppings all over the floor, or the woman who complains nonstop about her worthless, freeloading kids. It could be the person who constantly interrupts, butting into your conversations or the guy who has to always trumpet his every success, no matter how small. ("I just reloaded my stapler!")

It’s not enough that you put in long hours on the job, sit in boring meetings and put up with irate customers. No, on top of the bad coffee and the elevator that always gets stuck between floors, you’ve got to put up with the aggravation in the next cubicle, also known as a co-worker.

You’re ready to crack. You like your job, but you can't stand another day with one or more of your co-workers. You don't want to complain to the boss -- how to explain that someone's nasal voice makes you want to shove your favorite snow globe up his nose?

Don’t despair. There is a way to handle a bothersome co-worker without screaming, quitting or running to the boss:

* Write down the things that really, really bug you. Separate personal issues (she laughs like a hyena) from the professional ones (she interrupts when you’re talking). It’s not your place to comment on personal pet peeves, but rather on the professional issues that prevent you from doing your job as efficiently and productively as possible. And remember: Only address issues that directly impact you.

* Speak to the person directly. Schedule some time with her, in a private area where you won’t be interrupted and she won’t feel compelled to lash out because she’s embarrassed in front of others. Be specific about your complaints. "You’re always interrupting,” isn’t helpful. Say, “I believe you interrupt me when I’m trying to make a point in team meetings.” Try to provide an example.

* Ask for change. Once you’ve outlined the problem, then be specific about what you want to happen. “When I’m speaking, I’d like to finish my sentence so that I can make sure all members of the team understand and then I’ll answer questions or listen to other opinions.”

* Be honest. If the co-worker’s actions are really ticking you off, then say so. Describe how frustrated you feel when she pops above the cubicle partition to offer her unsolicited advice. Remain calm while describing how you feel – it will have much more impact than pitching a fit.

* Cut to the bottom line. Make it clear that you’re not bringing up these issues because you’re a whiny sourpuss. State why the issue is important in a calm, serious way.

* Fess up. You need to be honest that you’ve let the issue go on too long without speaking up, or you should have communicated more strongly your beliefs. Make sure she understands that it stops now.

* Look for solutions. Let the other person save face by helping you come up with ways to stop the problem.

So, what's the thing that drives you crazy about your co-workers?

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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

When You're The Obnoxious Twit

Is there someone at your workplace that everyone pretty much despises? You know who I'm talking about -- the person who can take a perfectly nice day and ruin it just by showing up?

Now, here's the million-dollar question: Is that person you?

Most people can relate a few stories about some obnoxious co-worker who drives everyone nuts and has people plotting about how to get him or her fired. But what if it’s you that co-workers can’t stand -- and you know it and want to change?

Well, first you must realize that it isn’t going to be easy. Whatever overbearing, anti-social and grating behavior put you at the top of the workplace “most disliked” list won’t be erased immediately. But it can be done, and if it is accomplished successfully, you and your co-workers will benefit greatly.

If you truly want to turn things around, then you’ve got to map out a strategy that will involve regaining the trust of co-workers and proving you are sincere. In other words, you've got to let go of the job strategy that says you don't need friends at work (you do) and you only need yourself for job success (wrong).

One of the first steps is to find someone you can trust to help you regain the ground you’ve lost. While it may be difficult to find a close co-worker to help you, consider someone from human resources or an ombudsman who can discreetly help you test the waters. This person can get a true indication of where your mistakes have been made with co-workers, and what you need to do to correct them.

At the same time, you and this third party should assure a supervisor that you want to make a sincere effort to mend fences. Then, you must begin changing your ways, showing others in the workplace that you know you have offended them, stepped on toes, and in general, been a pain in the ass.

Still, despite your best efforts, some co-worker's opinions of you are going to be tough to change, particularly if you've undermined them in the past. But if you make inroads with at least a few people, they can help smooth the way so that you begin to create a stronger bond than ever before. In this highly competitive global marketplace, it's very difficult if employees do not work together as a team and your co-workers may soon come to realize that your efforts will benefit them, as well.

One other consideration: If your bad behavior has been the result of a personal problem (depression, divorce, alcohol), you might consider sharing that with co-workers, telling them that you're determined to turn things around. If you're unsure whether this is a good idea, you might want to discuss the details with your third party. In general, people are much more sympathetic to these issues in today's workplace, and may judge you less harshly if they understand the root causes of your bad behavior.

Finally, keep in mind that dealing with your workplace conflicts now, rather than later, is important. Your reputation of being generally unlikable can become easily known through increased use of online networking sites. In today's competitive workplace, that can be a mistake that haunts you now -- and in the future.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Developing Your Adversity Muscle

At one time in your work life, you’ve probably tried it. A crisis arises and you do what you’ve been told will help: You breathe deeply, close your eyes, focus, and repeat something like “I can do it.”

And when you open your eyes, the crisis is still there and you’re no closer to a solution than when you started puffing away and sounding like the little engine that could.

Why is it some people are better able to handle tough times at work? Part of the problem may be that some of us are too accustomed to whining when things go wrong. Instead of dealing with problems, we become stuck in a cycle of blaming other people or targeting others with criticism that does little to help us overcome adversity. Further, some of us deal with difficult issues by just ignoring them, becoming more distanced from our own success because we won't address the hurdles in our way.

But there are several problems with these strategies, namely that they not only hurt careers, but they directly impact a company's bottom line. Organizations who have employees who cannot deal with adversity and move on are destined to be bogged down in discord and indecision.

If you want to become someone who is better able to deal with adversity and find ways to turn tough times into possibilities, try:

* Taking the wheel. How much control do you think you have over the problem? What can you do to impact the outcome? The more control you think you have, the better able you will be to react in a positive, productive way.

* Making yourself accountable. Whether or not you caused a problem doesn't matter as much as whether you're willing to step up to the plate and try to deal with it. Making yourself a victim won't help, but taking ownership and finding a solution will develop your ability to deal with adversity -- and that's something that bosses value.

* Keeping it in perspective. If you feel like you're standing in front of a runaway train when you have a conflict, you're more likely to feel the impact in all areas of your life. It's important to keep the work adversity in control, and try not to let it impact other areas of your life.

* Setting limits. Think about how long the adversity will continue, and tell yourself that it will end at some point. By looking for hope in even the toughest situations, you're saying to yourself that you're not willing to let this situation drag on forever. Such a mindset makes it easier to endure the tough times.


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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Brand You: A Free Telesummit for Those Seeking to Help Their Careers

I cannot believe it is the last Tuesday of October. When I was a kid, it seemed like time moved so slowly. I waited forever for summer break to arrive, I waited forever to get my driver’s license and I waited forever to get my ears pierced. Now that I’m older, it seems time flies much too quickly – didn’t we just celebrate the Fourth of July?

Ah, well, what better way to send off the month than with these parting tidbits….

Mark your calendars: On Nov. 8 you will have a unique opportunity to listen and learn from people who make it their business to help you with your career. The event, “A Brand You World Global Telesummit” will bring together speakers from 24 separate seminars that will focus on helping you manage your own career. The day-long seminar, in celebration of Tom Peters’ article on personal branding published in Fast Company 10 years ago, will be free and feature experts from the United States, France, Italy and Portugal. All you have to do is register for the event, and recordings will be available for those who can’t make it that day.
I’ll be part of the group discussing why employers appreciate those employees who understand and promote their personal brand, and how a personal brand can help you achieve success on the job. I’m scheduled to be the lead-off person at 10 a.m. EST, so I hope you find time to listen.
Check out the other speakers and remember that you’re basically being offered a chance to help your career and learn a thing or two from some well-regarded and highly-successful people that are willing to share what they know with you. I know that I still have a lot left to learn and after my session is done I plan to sit back and be a part of the audience.

In case you were wondering: Nobody likes conflict at work, but a new study shows that Americans are a lot more optimistic than East Asians about the chances of successfully resolving disputes on the job. And they're a lot more willing to join work teams that have a high potential for inter-personal conflict.
“Americans were more likely to join a talented team with a high potential for relationship conflicts," said Jeffrey Sanchez-Burke, a University of Michigan researcher. "East Asians avoid joining these kinds of groups – for them, the potential for turmoil trumps technical talent.”
The findings strengthen previous research showing that Americans tend to view the personal dimension as less important in work settings than East Asians do, the researchers said. This attitude is part of what Sanchez-Burks has termed “Protestant Relationship Ideology,” a tendency among Americans to approach getting the job done by playing down the social-emotional and relationship aspects of the work process.

Eddie Munster, anyone? “While some people can't resist the prospect of wearing a costume on Halloween while performing daily work tasks, others would rather dress for business as usual,” reports the Wall Street Journal. “And even though the young-at-heart employee might see it as the perfect time to express creativity through an elaborate get-up, it's best to fully consider whether the witty garb is innocuous enough to make every co-worker smile or if some might deem it offensive.
According to the National Retail Federation, 33.8% of adults plan to dress in costume for Halloween this year. And there's a good chance many of them will be dressing up in the office: A CareerBuilder.com survey in 2005 found that almost one-third of workers planned to wear a costume to work that year.
This year's popular choices for adult costumes include traditional Halloween favorites such as witches, pirates, vampires, cats and princesses, according to the federation. Also high on the list: characters from ‘Star Wars,’ doctors and athletes.”

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Meeting Cheat Sheet

When I think of all the meetings I have sat through in my lifetime, it makes me want to chuck everything and join a crew looking for sunken pirate booty. But then I think about how the crew would probably want to hold a meeting about whose job is was to look for the loot and whose job is was to write the report…and I decide to stay where I am.

I always tell people not to ditch meetings – even if they believe them to be a complete waste of time – because it’s important to understand the group’s dynamics and the role each person plays in the organization.

With that in mind, I’ve put together a sort of cheat sheet on meeting participants, which most of you will recognize to some degree. If I’ve left anything out, please feel free to add your own thoughts:

1. The alpha dog. This person sits in the most commanding position, either at the head of the table or in the middle. The alpha dog often spreads out his or her stuff in order to say “I’m in charge.” Watch out for the tendency to pee on the conference table leg before beginning.
2. The smirker. Contributing little to the discussion, this person tries to affect the “I’m too cool for this” persona, but instead sort of resembles a teen showing off for friends in English Lit class. Lots of raised eyebrows, smirks and a tendency to mutter things like “Oh, my Gawd,” while sniggering.
3. The thumb-sucker. Terribly insecure, this person feels the need to continually pump up personal contributions, i.e. “Landing on the moon? Oh, yeah, I know a guy who once did that…he called me from outer space once. The charges were ridiculous, dude!”
4. The navel-gazer. Every issue brings up a personal story that may or may not have anything to do with the issue being discussed. This person believes that his or her experience is one that should not be missed. Works nights and weekends on a personal biography that will make Bill Clinton’s look like a comic book.
5. The devil’s advocate. While contrary opinions can generate some valuable payoffs, this person likes to throw a wrench in the works just to watch the process break down. One of the biggest causes of meetings lasting for five hours. The devil’s advocate sets the alpha dog to yapping and peeing furiously, the smirker to eye-rolling and the thumb-sucker to creating wild tales of personal importance. The navel-gazer begins telling a story about last Christmas’s stocking stuffers.
6. The time traveler. Regardless of what is being discussed, this person seems surprised to be a part of it – as if Scotty just beamed them to the wrong planet. A perpetually confused and bewildered demeanor. Always wants to know: “Should I be taking notes?”
7. The real deal. This person sits quietly, doodling on a notepad. During a lull in the conversation, the real deal will come up with something that is profound and sensible and makes everyone else look like nitwits and numbskulls. Often mistaken for a celebrity while on vacation. Destined to one day be wealthy and directing others while hunting for pirate booty.
8. The pacifier. In the midst of all the yapping and smirking and boasting, the pacifier finds the solution for all the chaos and lack of progress: send the issue to committee for discussion.

Meeting adjourned.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Communicating Effectively at Work

I spend a lot of time trying to be a good communicator. Sometimes I’m better at it than at other times (anyone related to me by blood never seems to understand my request to take out the garbage), but I keep at it.

Despite technological advances, trying to communicate effectively can be frustrating. Trying to connect via e-mail or phone can be tricky when everyone is so busy. And to be honest, there are some people I either wish I never had to speak with or give me an overwhelming urge to swat them across the nose with a rolled up newspaper.

We’ve all had those challenges, which seem to be compounded by the increasing stress in our workplace. From the co-worker who is rude and abrasive to the boss who yells, we often have a tough time communicating effectively. Still, there are some ways to not only stand your ground against verbal assaults, but to make sure your message is being heard clearly and directly in this fast-paced communication environment. Try:

• Being straightforward. When you are direct – whether giving positive or negative feedback – it is appreciated by most people. Begin your statement with “I” and deliver it in a way that isn’t mean-spirited. Once you start dishing out the b.s. and being less than truthful, people will be less willing to communicate with you, and that will impact your ability to do your job.
• Learning to say “no” and meaning it. Too often, we say “no” but our whole demeanor conveys our doubt. Learn to say “no” when a request is first made, then state your reason for the denial. Don’t fidget, and make eye contact. This shows that you’re serious about what you’re saying.
• Spotting the mixed message. Haven’t we all dealt with the person at work that smiles or laughs while delivering an insult? For example, this person may say to you: “So, how did you enjoy your two-hour lunch?” That’s when you calmly look the person in the eye and say, “I appreciate your candor, but I think I’m the best judge of how I use my time.” Act as if the message were straigthtforward, or that you’re taking it literally: “Thanks for asking. The lunch was great.” If this fails, you can always become the broken record, repeating that there seems to be a problem: “I feel uncomfortable when you ask me about my two-hour lunch. I’d like you to let me know directly if my going out for a long lunch is a problem from your point of view.”
• Staying calm. When under a verbal assault, don’t offer justifications, apologies or qualifiers, because there is no way to win with a person who yells opinions. (This is especially true if it’s the boss.) Just keep repeating in your mind that the person is acting like a jerk, and keep breathing. In these cases, you might try admitting that there is some truth to what the person is saying, which can buy you some time and help turn down the intensity.

Finally, remind yourself in difficult communication situations at work that when someone is rude, belligerent, yelling or insulting, there may be more at play than you know.

For example, the person may be having a personal crisis, and you responding in kind may be something you come to regret.

Say to yourself: “This is difficult, but I believe in myself. It may be upsetting, but I can deal with it and getting angry only lets the other person win. I can’t control what they say, but I can control my reaction.”

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