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Thread: Dealing with challenging people at work

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    Super Moderator DocDave's Avatar
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    Dealing with challenging people at work

    Looking for some professional guidance/input here.

    How do you deal with people at work who treat you less than professional? For example email messages are curt. In meetings, they cut you off and tell you why you're wrong. Then when proven otherwise, they glaze over the issue and pass the issue off not as not relevant. The pattern repeats. And I know the individual treats others, with the exception of direct reports, like this too.

    What do you do? Be friendly, even in the face of hostility (i.e. take the high road). Treat like to for like; they're short and curt, so you're short and curt?

    Or is there some other way of working with them that I'm not seeing?

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    I think the first problem is a matter of answering their objection vs. acknowledging their objection.

    While this does require some quick thinking, be ready to evaluate if their objection will actually bolster what you are trying to say if immediately addressed. If not, put it aside letting them know you value their feedback and will try to address it later in the meeting if/when there is time.

    I'm not a fan of just plowing through objections as if someone didn't say anything. Even if this helps the flow temporarily, the objector won't likely be able to concentrate on anything you say and will probably be mentally rewording what was a brief comment in the moment as a long, rabbit-hole argument later.

    However, reading your particular situation, it sounds like nobody is seriously moderating your meetings. Is this accurate? Someone needs to be the person to keep everyone on the agenda without talking a lot themselves.

    Some meetings I've gone as far as specifying in the agenda that everyone is going to take turns addressing the subject in order. Another tactic is to use a whiteboard and just write down the basics of thoughts people want to offer; this gives everyone the visual acknowledgement that what they said has been noted.

    As for emails, some people are just terrible at emails. I call or text these people.

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    One more trick... move closer to this person. This doesn't work on a phone call, but I always move closer to an objector in a presentation or meeting. I'm not sure why this works, but people are less comfortable being antagonistic if you are close to them.

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    You have to know what peoples jobs are to understand short emails. First, any email over 5 sentences does not get read by me. Are your emails too long so this person is short? Or the other fact could be they are at a certain level within an organization. I've emailed C-suite and get a short text reply like a yes/no so don't feel bad...these people could get a ton of emails. Some people think others are the email issues but they should look at their own habits as well.

    As for the disagreements, you can get more out of it by changing wording but this takes time to learn. For instance, instead of saying "are you sure?" change the wording to "how sure are you?" This creates more open dialog. As for proven wrong, ask to see the detail so you can get a better understanding. Say you would love to change your mind so you are not spreading inaccurate information. In these instances, the person is not being told they are wrong but learning on their own they are wrong.

    People hold onto their opinions for dear life until they learn they are wrong or misinformed on their own. Nothing you will do will change this.

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    Varsity Member Shade's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JBarwick View Post


    People hold onto their opinions for dear life until they learn they are wrong or misinformed on their own. Nothing you will do will change this.
    This, is so very true. I've seen people, plenty of times, learn they are wrong, and still hold on to their opinions for dear life. Some people, will refuse to admit when they are wrong.

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    To first answer is this person a client, supervisor, peer or subordinate?

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    Super Moderator DocDave's Avatar
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    @hockeysc23 This person, while I do not report to them, is higher up on the chain of command. I wouldn't call them a supervisor, but I'm not a peer either.

    I suppose what chaffed my hide is the tone of the response via email. All snark and attitude. Pretty much rude. But I know the person treats others like this. So I don't know if I'm better served being rude back, or pleasant, or what?

    @JBarwick I understand that more senior people don't have time to read long emails. And my email was polite and to the point. The response was rude and abrupt. All of their responses are like this. It's a real F-U kind of attitude. And it is constant, and not just to me. My question is I'm a nice guy. I treat others well and have a good outlook on life. I'm proud of that. But this person is a real challenge to work with. And being positive / upbeat with them takes effort. If they are going to be a SOB, am I better served being a SOB back to them, or maintaining my way of being nice?

    @ianr Meetings are a different matter. They are usually one on one, or two on one. Very small. There is no moderator. Just a sharing of ideas or plans. It's one thing to be asked to why you're suggesting such or planning such, but is another to experience outright hostility and only back down when faced with documented proof of the decision.

    Anyway. I'm sure this is all office politics that all of us have experienced at one point in time. I'm just trying to navigate it as best as possible.

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    Sorry you have to go through with that. Our new client the director of a government office has to be snarky in every email. She’s beyond rude. Says stuff like “well I guess I have to do it” and a lot worse degrading people etc.

    My general approach with those you cannot avoid is to be direct, short and curt. No sense stopping to their level but you cannot win them over. Just make sure your emails are tight.

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    I would maintain your professional attitude. You're not going to "win" anything by stooping to their level. At best you get some small personal satisfaction that you were shitty to a shitty person. At worst your boss and coworkers see you acting shitty to another person.

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