Q. I have a colleague who guards her turf pretty aggressively. She doesn’t share other people’s ideas even if they’re useful and keeps information to herself even when others need it. She’s a pleasant person, but these behaviors are frustrating. How can I work more effectively with her?
Phil, 49, director of product development
A. Take a dual approach of building common ground and expanding your reach to others.
Setting aside your frustration, spend some time seeing the world through your colleague’s eyes. What motivates her? If she’s ambitious, try to understand what success will look like to her. Likewise, consider what she’ll see as a failure. What is she most afraid of from a business perspective? You’re trying to build empathy, but just as importantly, you’re getting tools for effectively influencing her behavior.
Also think about how her behavior reflects or deviates from your broader corporate culture. If she’s in alignment with the dominant executive style, her behavior will seem even more rational to her. If it’s a cutthroat culture, she may be looking for any edge she can find.
On the other hand, if your company tends to be collaborative, she may be an outlier.
In all cases, how can you get what you need from her while also helping her be successful? If she can be brought to see that sharing ideas and information is in her interest, you’ll get the outcome you want.
At the same time, you can’t depend on being able to influence her, so it’s important to also find other channels. If you (or others) are sharing your good ideas only with her, how about broadening your communication web? Share solutions to business problems more broadly, including with other influential people at your company.
Likewise, find other sources for the information you need. In any given situation, who are the people who are in the know? For example, you may need information from Finance that typically goes through her. Cultivate the direct connections you need so that you’re either positioned to get the information officially, or at least have a reliable back channel.
As you broaden your relationships, think longer term. You’ll be more effective in the company if you know more people.
There’s one more consideration to keep in mind. While your colleague may be pleasant, is she trustworthy? There is a possibility that her info-blocking is just cluelessness. However, there’s also a chance that she will be resistant to your best efforts. Especially if you’re proactively developing other relationships, she may find this threatening. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t proceed. However, you’ll want to keep your eyes open so that you don’t get blindsided.
Finally, choose your battles. Go for visibility for your ideas in a situation where it can really matter for both you and your company. Hint: If you maximize value to the company, it’ll reflect well on you. Same thing with trying to get information. Your situation is a marathon, so treating it like a sprint could stress you out more and could also create resistance in your colleague.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.