Most of us are sometimes faced with people at work who drive us nuts. That can even happen to me with clients and others. I’ve also recently been in conversations and interviews with people who have complained bitterly about their bosses or co-workers. Many of these complaints have revolved around variations on one issue: what the subject of the complaint is doing that is wrong or stupid or inefficient or counterproductive (as defined by the person being driven nuts, of course!). So, I’ve been thinking about how best to deal with these aggravating folks.
I’ve come up with a short list of questions (and answers) to use as a guide with the intended result of reducing my (and perhaps your) aggravation (and stress!) with some of these challenges in our lives.
First, a given: You can change yourself (your behaviors, attitudes, beliefs…), but you can only (at most) influence others. So do NOT approach these aggravating people with the intent of changing them or you are likely to simply end up more aggravated yourself.
Now, answer the following questions on your way to reducing your aggravation:
Question 1: Is the aggravating behavior violating a law or company policy?
- If yes (but you’d better be SURE), sometimes all you’ll need to do is point that out (maybe even anonymously.) For example, say the boss repeatedly expects you and others to work over 40 hours a week in a non-exempt position without paying overtime. Send her a copy of the section of the state law that clearly states she has to pay you overtime for this. I’m going to bet she’ll get the hint (though she might be mad about it).
- If no, proceed to Question 2.
Question 2: Is the aggravating behavior mostly stupid, rude, infantile, embarrassing…?
- If yes, and you have a good relationship with the person, consider providing effective feedback in a way they’ll hear (see some of our earlier blog posts on effective communication). They might well have no idea how they come across, and appreciate the help.
- If yes, and you don’t have a good relationship with the person, decide to separate yourself from what’s going on. You may not be able to do that in fact (you have to keep your job, I have to continue to interview a rude witness…). In this situation, you need to understand that the other person’s behavior is about them – not about you. Are they micromanaging? It’s because they can’t manage appropriately. Are they editing and re-editing until they have re-written your work and brought it back to where it was before the first edit? It’s because they don’t understand how to edit appropriately. In either case, it’s about them, not about you. Remember one of the great scenes in Muppet film Labyrinth? Once our heroine understands she does not have to buy into the goblin king’s definition of reality, she says, “You have no power over me!” And what happens? The labyrinth in which she believed she was trapped, disappears. Take back your power, and don’t allow the aggravator to define how you see the world.
- If no, go to question 3.
Question 3: Is the aggravating behavior counterproductive to getting the work done, is it ineffective and inefficient?
- If yes, and you have a good relationship with the person, consider offering feedback in a way they’ll her. But remember: no one likes to be told what they already know. So, if I know that the way I’m doing a project is inefficient, but it’s the way my boss is making me do it, hearing criticism from you will not help. So, be careful!
- If yes, and you don’t have a good relationship with the person, remember this: unsolicited advice is rarely welcomed. If your boss wanted a critique of the company’s billing system, we’re sure he would have asked you. He didn’t. If your boss wanted to hear you discuss better hiring processes, she would have asked. She didn’t. Don’t needlessly aggravate people (especially people with power over you) by telling them how to do their jobs – when they didn’t ask you for advice. They’re unlikely to appreciate it. Just keep doing your work, let go of your ego in the situation, and stop making their inefficiency or ineffectiveness your problem. LET IT GO. Take a deep breath. Go back to your work and do it as well as you can. And, if you can’t stand the aggravation, look for another job.
Remember: in this world, as long as you work with others, you will likely find some of those others aggravating in the way’s I’ve described here. Sometimes you can effectively deal with those folks – but often you just need to stop giving them power over your emotions (i.e., stop letting them aggravate you) and LET IT GO! Comments? We’d like to hear from you! ~ Daphne Schneider