Want Successful Relationships with Difficult People?–Pay Attention to Situational factors not Personality Conflicts.

Quote:” If a man is brusque in his manner, others will not cooperate. If he is agitated in his words, they will awaken no echo in others. If he asks for something without having first established a proper relationship, it will not be given him.”

I Ching: Book of Changes China 600 B.C.   

Reflections and Ideas: Interpersonal conflicts can make or break a workplace project’s  success. The more difficult the relationships the more we often try to ignore or run away from them. Many times we see the relationships as secondary to the rational goals of the project or initiative. It has been observed by some management consultants that at the core relationships usually make or break our plans. The reason for this is that business has a powerful bias toward rational thinking and factual analysis in completing the task at hand. Many times in business it’s about analytics and the substance of the task– and of course it is. But very quickly, relationship issues start to affect how well we handle the substantive issues.” So if you’re having problems with a colleague, it’s important to address them head-on. But simply changing your own attitude isn’t enough. Self-help tips about how to change yourself or positive affirmations like, “I am a good person so I can fix this. With some of these suggestions we just aggravate the situation because we never understand the root cause for our interpersonal problem. But how long can you do that before your frustration causes angry outbursts and effects your other relationships and job performance.

Tools to Try.

he answer, instead, is to change your mental-mind set and the relationship structure by confronting it through active listening, empathy and caring confrontation techniques. For example, getting more of an objective view point on the conflict or just taking a pause to  evaluate your expectations and interactions – even going so far as to ask a colleague to observe and capture your conversations and provide feedback is worth the time and effort to get clarity  and capture the nuances of what you say and how you act with the other person. I believe you can’t come up with a Smart-Step plan without understanding  how each person’s behavior and body language is impacting and eliciting reactions and behavior the other person doesn’t like or agree with. Figuring out the root causes and engaging in caring confrontation discussions about how to solve the problems in a cooperative and dynamic way are ways to unlock these unproductive relationships.

For instance, you may find yourself in a pattern of forcefully advocating for a position with your colleague, which he strongly opposes. But if you step back to ask about her concerns and what she’s trying to say and accomplish – and begin to address those goals –she might not feel the need to oppose and argue you so much. We all need tools to help look at situational factors, style and relationship patterns; without trying  some new approaches it is difficult to unfreeze our self-fulling prophecy that this individual is not a team player or is just a “jerk” who doesn’t like you and likes to cause problems.

 Most research into relationships and interpersonal conflicts show that people tend to think in terms of motives, character and personalities, despite the fact it’s more often due to situational factors rather than due to character or personality conflicts. For example, your assertiveness with a less assertive and open person might be perceived as aggressiveness and bullying. To keep  relationships growing as leaders it is your responsibility to flex your style and be sensitive to the other person’s needs and concerns. No matter how well established, in order to turn relationships you can not see them as permanent and intractable. Instead – with time and practice – you can change and improve the way you listen and solve problems.

What are your strategies for dealing with difficult co-workers? How do you work to build strong relationships? In conflict situations what do you do resolve them? 

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