Working With Difficult People

Read tips for dealing with difficult colleagues and improving
day-to-day interactions.

June 18, 2009
from Accountemps

Among the many work-related pressures accounting professionals face, one of the most stressful is dealing with difficult colleagues. These run the gamut from micro-managing bosses and temperamental peers to inexperienced subordinates, and they can erode your morale and sabotage your productivity.

Since your chances of changing your coworkers’ behavior are slight, you’ll be better served if you choose a strategy that enables you to continue working with the rough-edged personalities in your office. Here are some of the most common problematic personalities you’re likely to encounter in the workplace along with some tips for defusing tensions and improving day-to-day interactions.

The Unmanageable Manager

The Challenge: A demanding, temperamental or insecure manager can make your work life miserable. There’s the workaholic who expects you to toil around the clock, and the micromanager who can’t delegate or let go of projects. Or perhaps your manager is hyper-critical and routinely berates your in front of the rest of the team.

The Solution: Avoid direct confrontations or passive-aggressive tactics. Instead, accept your differences and try to respond to your manager’s concerns. If your boss can’t delegate, for example, it may be because she’s afraid of losing control. To eliminate unpleasant surprises and help her feel that she’s in the loop, provide frequent updates and status reports. With a workaholic boss, it’s essential to discuss expectations and mutually acceptable limits on when and for how many hours you’ll work each week. In dealing with a critical manager, make an effort to control your own emotions. Focus on the content of what your manager is saying, rather than the delivery, and try to move toward a resolution of the problem. Some of these suggestions may be “easier said than done,” you might say, but you will be doing yourself a favor in the long run by resisting your natural impulses in these kinds of cases.

The Coworker-Rival

The Challenge: Because of incompatible work styles or clashing temperaments, you and a coworker just don’t get along. Interactions are tense and may often end in strong disagreements. Bad feelings persist long after the initial cause has passed.

The Solution: Although it may be plain to everyone that this person is at fault, remember that it takes two to perpetuate a bad situation. You may work with this person for years to come, so it’s best to aim at minimizing discord, even if you’re the only one making the effort. Go out of your way to be courteous and professional in conversations and written communications such as e-mail. Even if the coworker is openly unpleasant, resist the urge to snap back. Instead, stay focused on the work at hand and on your own responsibilities.

The Coaster

The Challenge: One of your teammates is a chronic underperformer. He misses deadlines, shows up late to meetings, disappears for long lunches and does subpar work that’s riddled with mistakes. Because you’re not his supervisor, you can’t confront him directly and require him to put forth more effort.

The Solution: If this coworker has a penchant for being late, for example, discuss deadlines well in advance. Be sure to specify what type of information or materials you need from him to do your job. If the situation does not change, speak with your team leader or supervisor. Let her know you and other team members have tried without success to handle the problem. Don’t bad-mouth your coworker, but do express your concern about his impact on the team’s productivity.

The Office Gossip

The Challenge: It’s human nature to talk about the people we work with, but gossips do so with the goal of creating divisions. This typically leads to friction and conflict among team members and, if widespread, a toxic corporate culture.

The Solution: Your goal is to avoid becoming involved in negative discussions or adding to the drama of gossip by responding to it. If you’re unsure whether to share something you’ve been told about a particular individual, ask yourself, “What good would it really do to reveal what I’ve learned, other than to satisfy my natural inclination to pass along intriguing information?” Better yet, when a gossip starts sharing secrets with you, cut the conversation off as soon as possible. By simply saying you’re busy at the moment and need to concentrate on your work, you can effectively stall a gossip. If you do this enough, they’ll get the hint.

It’s unlikely that your difficult colleagues’ personalities will change significantly, so don’t make that your goal. Instead, look for ways to modify your own responses. You’ll feel better and reduce the negative effects that problematic coworkers have on your performance and attitude.
For more career advice, listen to Robert Half’s podcast series, The Management Minute, at www.rhi.com/podcast.

Accountemps is one of the world’s first and largest temporary staffing service specializing in the placement of accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. The company has more than 360 offices worldwide and offers online job search services at www.accountemps.com.