November, 2011 / Author:

If it hasn’t happened already, it is going too. You will find yourself working with a difficult person. When it comes to thriving in the world at work, you have to learn some basic skills in human interaction. These basic skills might be seen to some as common sense. Yet as my grandmother used to say, ”commonsense is not always common practice.”

During the last decade, as a human resource professional I have seen the use of these basic skills decline in the world of work. While it is true, that many of those who don’t seem to have these basic skills are, shall we say, “a certain age,” the younger generations do not corner the market on the lack of commonsense and understanding when dealing with a co-worker or customer who presses the angry button.

I am going to focus on dealing with colleagues and co-workers in this column. Not everybody “does life “the same way as you: As human beings we often think other people approach things in basically the same way. We don’t. What might seem like a slight to you is perfectly

OK with another. Try to find out, the “why” behind the person’s actions. Asking someone to explain to you what was happening for them when such and such occurred is a better then saying, “What the heck were you thinking?”

“I” messages: When confronting someone about their behaviour, using “I” messages helps to minimize the feeling of being attacked. Rather than saying, “You were totally rude to me and made me feel horrible,” say “I feel badly when you talk to me that way, “ or, “I feel uncomfortable when you tell jokes like that around me.”

Conflict is OK: A lot of people have negative images in their mind maps when it comes to conflict. Some are even conflict adverse – meaning they will do almost anything and take almost any treatment to keep the peace. Conflict is a healthy part of life. It is by conflict that we grow. Our muscles get stronger as they are stressed and conflicted with external pressure, recover and rebuild. We become wiser then our old ideals conflict with new information, teaching us new ways of being. By learning the conflict is OK, we give ourselves permission to have those conversations that matter with our co-workers and colleagues.

Not all conflict is created equal: Some conflicts are minor and can be ignored or dealt with by a brief conversation, while others are more significant and need to be dealt with accordingly. Too often co- workers get into an argument that escalates into a shouting match over who used their Splenda – while another worker refuses to confront the person who spreads highly offensive and untrue rumours about them around the workplace. Talk to an objective third party to see if your reaction is appropriate to the difficult incident that you have to talk about.

With these basic skills being consistently used in our workplaces we just might see common sense become common practice. 

Next time, we will chat about what to do, when you are the difficult person!


– Brad Tyler-West, CHRP, is a Senior Human Resource Consultant and connection coach.

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