Sometimes we are faced with personality conflicts, dramas, politics and uncomfortable situations at work. It can be hard to know how to navigate these sticky situations, and they can escalate and take on a life all of their own. It can make our work lives painful and even worse we can take these problems home with us and carry them around into our personal lives.
Queue Dr. Bernstein.
Browsing at the library, I came across his book Am I The Only Sane One Working Here?: 101 Solutions for Surviving Office Insanity and I am now recommending this book to EVERYONE. He offers no-nonsense suggestions for all sorts of awkward situations that we may experience at work. He DOES NOT suggest that you document all the (real or perceived) ill-treatment you are subjected to, call the HR department, file a grievance, contact a lawyer for those run of the mill irritants we experience every day.
*(He does however acknowledge that there are some situations that go beyond irritating such as harassment or threats to your personal safety and these DO need a different approach but we are not talking about those here).
His advice in a nutshell — “Suck it up buttercup. You might be working with a jerk. And guess what? Sometimes you are jerk too.” (My words not his).
For some people that is not enough. They need to understand why people can be so difficult. Dr. Bernstein has the answer……
When you encounter a situation or coworker that is annoying, upsetting or difficult, understand that there is a very high probability that their behavior is driven from their own fear. People will go to great lengths to avoid the things they fear and once you apply that lens to the situation things start to look and feel very different. Sometimes I even find myself closing my eyes, taking a deep breath and saying to myself, “They are afraid, they are afraid. They know not what they do, because they are afraid. They are operating from a place of fear.” It helps.
So now, rather than hiding my muffled screams of frustration in the supply closet, I try to understand what it is they might be afraid of. Are they worried about:
- Loss of status
- appearing foolish or incompetent
- making a mistake
- the unknown
If I can understand what they are afraid of I can help change the situation. It means listening to them and probing. It means being open and honest and trying to understand what it is they need. Can I help? Do they need more information? Do they have the tools/training/time/ support they need to succeed? Has a similar situation gone badly in the past, and they are afraid of it happening again?
Once I started to examine the sources of my co-workers’ fears and my own, work suddenly started to feel a little less insane and a lot more humane.