Q: I have a colleague who is very hard to deal with. She seems like a decent person but we can’t get on the same page on matters that concern us both. How can I get her to work more effectively with me?
A: You likely will not be able to change her, so focus on gaining more shared understanding.
The inner game
Much of your attention on this issue will be inward, focusing on gaining an understanding of her motivators and temperament and building empathy. First, get into a receptive frame of mind. If you feel antagonistic toward her, or even just frustrated, spend some time letting that go, focusing on your breath until you feel calm and ready to engage in this effort.
Now think about everything you know about her, using even the smallest clues. If you don’t know anything, that’s an indicator of an issue in itself!
Do some fact finding. If you’ve been to her desk, think about what you’ve seen. Does family seem important? Any particular activities? You aren’t looking for items to “bond” about; this is about deepening your understanding of her. Think about her personality, her demeanor in meetings, anything that would help you understand her better.
Check out her LinkedIn page, looking at it not with a lens of just acquiring facts; consider what it may tell you about her. Can you tell if she’s had to have great determination to overcome certain challenges, for example?
With information at hand, it’s now time for deeper reflection. Try to imagine her day. Is it hectic or calm? Does she have a lot to juggle at work, at home or both? Next, still from her perspective, imagine what interactions with you might be like. Taking your personal identities out of the picture, how do your communication styles match? Is one of you “cut to the chase” while the other wants details?
Finally, set a goal. Where on the relationship spectrum would you like to get? Consider both the tone and substance of your interactions.
The outer game
Often, simply increasing your own sensitivity will help you improve the situation without taking any other action. So, the next couple of times you’re having discussions, see if they go better. You may find that you are better able to manage the conversation and the outcomes just based on the reflection you’ve done.
If the interactions still aren’t successful, look at the points at which the breakdowns occur. Then slow down the process a bit. For example, if you aren’t in agreement on your goal, don’t move on to your action plan for achieving it.
Set up time for an informal conversation, letting her know that you’d like to chat about ways to work together more effectively. If the steps you’ve taken on your own haven’t helped, she’s likely also experiencing some frustration.
Check your progress against your goal, and don’t give up. Notice areas that are still rough and focus on them, and also celebrate successes, such as a productive meeting.
The last word
It may be incremental, and even take steps back, but successful working relationships can be developed even when you don’t see eye-to-eye.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.