So, There’s This Guy I Can’t Stand…
That probably seems like an unusual title for one of my feature articles. Typically, I write with a view to instruct or inspire, you know? Trust me when I say that this week is no exception ; I’m just going about it a bit differently, by beginning from the place of personal experience. My request is that you humour me, just a bit. I’ll make it worth your while.
My daily life revolves in many circles. I have my coaching work, my writing, my speaking. I have my library work and my book club groups. I have my work with various committees and volunteer groups. I have my dance family (thanks to my daughter) and my sports family (thanks to my son). I have friends that fall outside of any of these groups. And I have family all over the place. Being involved in so many circles, it’s pretty safe to say that I interact with a LOT of people, in various capacities. And when I say “a lot of people”, I mean a lot of different people. I’m talking about different personalities, different perspectives, different beliefs, different ways of interacting with the world.
Ordinarily, I’m a big proponent of embracing the differences. After all, there’s a cliché that goes something along the line that diversity is the only thing we truly have in common. My sense is that each and every person has something to offer the world, something to teach us, something to share. My inclination is to look for that thing, that value, whatever it may be, and focus on that. And this inclination has served me very well…until recently.
A new individual has come into one of my circles. The nature of this circle is such that he and I need to work on a few projects together. And, I cannot stand the man. I really can’t. I find him loud, obnoxious, and condescending. I have yet to experience him as a good listener – unless he’s listening to the sound of his own voice. He actually pulls the adult version of “if you don’t do things my way then I’m picking up my marbles and going home”. He appears to think he’s beyond rules –unless they happen to support his specific agenda. He seems to have no awareness of his impact on the space around him. He has yet to admit that he doesn’t know an answer… instead he’ll make it up as he goes along, regardless of the consequences. And heaven forbid the man should accept responsibility for a mistake, or apologize in any meaningful way. As you can tell, this guy has gotten under my skin and I’m irked.
When I first realized what I was up against, I was annoyed. Moreover, I didn’t know what to do. I mean, in my worldview, as I said earlier, embracing and accepting differences is how I prefer to operate. But how do I embrace and accept someone who operates in such a polarizing way? Perhaps, more specifically, how the heck do I WORK with this guy? How do I ensure that what needs to happen – what I’ve been entrusted to make happen – happens, without his specific “way of being” undermining everything?
What was getting in the way for me was a sense that if I “accepted” him in the traditional sense, then I would be condoning his behavior. And I couldn’t do that. Not when I saw the damage that was slowly being eeked out in that particular circle. And, I couldn’t ignore him (standard advice when you run up against someone you don’t like) because of the nature of our work together.
So, here’s the question: how do you be with someone you can’t stand? How do you move forward and do the work that has to be done, when it’s clear that your worldviews don’t align? Are you ready for the answer? Because I think I may have found it. And it’s a multi-faceted one.
First, ditch the idea that you have to like whoever you work with. You don’t. It’s actually okay for you to not like each other, even as you work together. Obviously, it’s easier to work with those whom you like; that doesn’t mean it’s a prerequisite. Understanding this was a liberating experience for me.
Second, get comfortable with discomfort –and say what needs to be said. This might be the most important facet of the solution. You don’t have to be mean; you do have to be honest. Share what’s working and what isn’t. Let the individual know when boundaries are crossed. Be clear about expectations, and then get on with the work at hand.
Third, hold the bigger picture, always. Remember what your circle’s objective is, and your role in facilitating that outcome. Work with that end in mind. Holding my circle’s objective and ultimate goal allowed me to speak clearly and in a grounded fashion.
Fourth, model what you’re expecting. In other words, if you need the individual in question to listen more, make sure you’re listening as well. Set the example of what your circle needs, in conjunction with having the necessary dialogue.
Finally, make sure you’re not fighting fire with fire. This can be tricky – I mean, if someone’s being obnoxious, it can be tempting to be equally obnoxious in return. It’s a form of modeling, right? As in, modeling what you don’t want? The thing is, it’s not effective. It might provide a moment of satisfaction, but it will not serve the bigger picture. So stay clear of the temptation.
Bottom-line: at some point you will find yourself in the position of having to work with someone you can’t stand. Not just someone you don’t see eye-to-eye with, but someone who pushes every button you possess. This is challenging to say the least; at the same time, there is a way to navigate it. Keep it all simple, and remember that the key lies in holding the big picture and saying what needs to be said. While you’ll likely never reach a point of understanding with someone who’s so diametrically opposed to your way of being, you will find a way to co-exist and move forward. And in the end, that’s the piece that really matters.