Practical tips and insights to help research administrators grow personally and professionally.
Dealing with Monsters in the Workplace
This time of year we expect to see monsters, ghouls, and goblins trolling the streets. But, if you look closely, you’ll find monsters all around you – even in the workplace!
It’s true, they come in many styles and no workplace is without them. These 'monsters' are the difficult people we encounter, the ones who engage in a variety of negative and troublesome behaviors making us feel stressed, uncomfortable, and miserable. But fear not, below are some helpful tips for effectively dealing with a few varieties of these difficult workplace monsters.
This is the openly aggressive and hostile individual who preys on the perceived weaknesses of others. They are confrontational and expect their victims to either run away from them or react in rage. The most important aspect in coping with these kinds of individuals is to stand up for yourself. Try to get them to sit down if possible. Then call them by name and assert your own opinions with confidence. The key is to hold your ground without getting emotional or taking this individual’s attacks personally. Stay calm, cool, and collected when dealing with these types of individuals.
This is the individual who lays in hiding waiting for just the right moment to attack and when they do, they suck the life out of you. They utilize innuendo, under-the-breath remarks, and sarcastic teasing to undermine their victim. And they are skilled at making sneak attacks in environments where their victim is least likely to retaliate, for instance in a group setting or at a social function. The first step in coping with these individuals is to force them out into the open. Ask questions like "that sounds like you’re making fun of me. Are you?” They are likely to reply to such questions with a denial, such as “I’m only joking.” Nevertheless, by asking questions, you have stood up this individual which will likely reduce the occurrence of similar attacks in the future.
This is the individual who has little faith in themselves and others because they believe in a hostile world. They are pessimistic and find fault with everything. And their constant discouragement and complaining can bring everyone to despair. Coping with these individuals involves listening first and then asking clarifying questions, even if you feel guilty or falsely accused. Don’t agree with these individuals, don’t apologize, and don’t become overly defensive or try to argue them out of their negativity. Instead respond with a problem-solving attitude. Be serious and supportive. Acknowledge the facts. Help the individual see how the problem can be chunked down into manageable pieces and work together with him/her to find solutions.
This is the individual who sits silently and refuses to contribute to the conversation. They respond to questions, controversial statements, and any situation they deem disagreeable with silence or at a minimum will mumble “I don’t know.” While sometimes silence is golden, for these individuals it can actually be a form of aggression. And, interestingly, they often are able to get away with such behavior because most people are uncomfortable with silence and are quick to fill in the awkward gaps. Obviously the best way to cope with these individuals is to get them to talk. To do this, ask open-ended questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no response, such as "How do you feel about this?" or "What are your ideas?" Then wait a full minute before saying anything. Hopefully, this long silence will make them uncomfortable enough to actually say something. And if/when they do start talking, be attentive and listen carefully to what they have to say.
These are just a few of the 'monsters' you are likely to encounter in the workplace and while these strategies won’t necessarily turn a difficult person into an easy-going one, they will definitely break their ability to interfere with your effectiveness. And, more importantly, you will feel more confident in your ability to deal with these difficult individuals and their negative behaviors. So, go ahead, use this Halloween season to get out and tackle some of those dreadful workplace monsters!
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