Monday, January 25, 2010

Three good things: the secret to dealing with everyone, Part 1 else

You've just been put on a project team with that guy who surfs the web all day; great, there goes your weekends, because you know you'll be having to do all of your redlines and half of his, too. You've been assigned to help your boss put together a presentation for a project interview; pass the Advil, because that gal cannot stop changing her mind twenty times a day about the font and cannot resist micromanaging your Photoshop work. You pass on word to your consultants that the deadline for CDs will be moved three days earlier; oh boy, here comes the complaining and struggling to get drawings from one of the consultants, who's been a pain from day one. How are you supposed to get anything done with these people around you? How can you possibly confront them about their cruddy behavior when a) they don't seem to be aware of it or disturbed by it, regardless of how it affects you?

Confrontation is inevitable in the workplace, but it doesn't have to be confrontational. What binds us all more than our race, gender, generation, political outlook, or anything else is our species--our humanity. We all want to be liked and respected, we all want to belong and to get along, and we all want our efforts to be appreciated. It seems that appreciation and respect are frequently missing in the workplace, especially in this economic climate. It's easier to look for flaws and then use those flaws as a way of thinning the herd--of colleagues, employees, consultants and vendors, etc. Appreciation and respect feel like afterthoughts, or even signs of weakness. But consider the power of showing that respect to others. Consider the power of acknowledging someone's contributions. And consider the power asking for cooperation rather than taking someone to task. Rethinking that power--power to, but not power over--is the least frustrating way to get things done not just on a project but in life in general.

The first step to finding this power is to think of three good things about everyone you deal with. This can be hard at first, especially when dealing with the really difficult people in your office or on your team. Sometimes, you may have to ask someone else to help you come up with someone's good traits. Sometimes, one of those traits ends up being "s/he showers regularly and comes to work dressed like an adult." Fair enough--as long as it's a positive characteristic that you can honestly say applies to that person, then it counts.

There are two reasons to come up with three positive traits: one, it helps to ground and remind you that you're dealing with a person and not an evil demon from the third ring of Purgatory; and two, it gives you a way of balancing what you need to change with someone with what you like and depend upon in this person. Some communication experts call it the Compliment Sandwich: "Kelly, it's really helpful that you get your redlines done so quickly--it really makes this project go faster. However, there have been some mistakes in your work recently. Give yourself a chance to check through them once more before you reprint your sheets, and I know that it'll ultimately make you and the project even faster." Whatever you call it, it gives you a way of connecting with Kelly (or whoever), presenting the situation as something that's solvable, and then showing how it will help them and you (or the team) once it's corrected.

I'm working on a couple of deadlines at the same time, but the next post will talk more about using three good things to deal with others as well as how to ask for cooperation and to play polite hardball with really obnoxious people. In the meantime, if you have a question you'd like to ask or a topic you'd like to see discussed here, feel free to post it in the comments or to email me in the sidebar. Thanks!

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