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3x3 - Relating Better With Difficult Coworkers

Published 7/31/2019

In today's 3x3 episode we're talking about three different strategies when dealing with difficult coworkers better.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Why do we like to admit it or not? We've all dealt with a difficult coworker. And the level of difficulty and the reason for the difficulty is really highly varied. Every situation is different and every person is different. In today's 3x3 episode, we're talking about three strategies for dealing with difficult coworker relationships. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and you're listening to Developer Tea. My goal in this show is to help driven developers like you find clarity, perspective, and purpose in your careers. And we've all had this kind of problem. And if you haven't had it, then you're probably an anomaly or maybe you will have it in the future. So you can refer back to this episode when it does happen. But the reality is that there's not any one silver bulletway to deal with difficult coworkers. Now, to lay the foundation for some of the kind of theory that we're going to talk about in today's episode, we have to affirm the idea that the level of difficulty that you have with a given person is fundamentally a part of your relationship to them. In other words, someone is not just out on their own being difficult. The difficulty is a difficulty of relationship. Now, that's not to say that you are the only one that has trouble with this particular person. They may have particular ways of behaving that are not tenable for a lot of people, or it may be that it just rubs you the wrong way. In either case, there are strategies that you can use to relate better to this person. And the first strategy is to simply be on their side. What does this mean practically? Whenever that person is doing something that you don't totally understand, instead of entrenching yourself in what you already believe and what you already feel in your frustration and that feeling of annoyance that you might have towards that person, instead of retreating back to that place where you normally go, try to get on their side of the fence, try to see things their way. This is a particularly good technique for developers because a lot of the time, the difficulties that we have come down to technical opinion. We end up bike shedding for hours often unproductively. But if we can set aside our own opinion, if we can lay that down and see things through someone else's eyes, then we often understand that most of our opinions about software development are at least partially arbitrary. It may not be that they are actually arbitrary to you, but when it comes down to the goal that you have, the common kind of objective that is shared between you and the person that is difficult, both your way and their way may work well. And if you can see things through their perspective, one of two things is likely to happen. Either one, you're going to change your own perspective because you see things in a new way through their perspective, or the second thing that might happen is because you understand their position better, you may be able to explain how to bridge the gap between your opinion and their opinion. The fundamental idea here is instead of retreating and trying to pull somebody to your side, it's important that you take steps towards them. You can visualize how an argument is going to play out if you can imagine someone leaning in towards the other person to hear the nuances of what they're saying, rather than leaning back so that they can yell louder. The second strategy for relating better to a difficult coworker is to think further into the future. Most of the time, the struggles that we have between one worker and another, those struggles are temporary. They're focused on temporary problems. Like for example, this project or this particular feature or this particular client, and often if we can stretch what we're focusing on, if we can stretch that target out a little bit further into the future, then a lot of that interpersonal conflict will diffuse very quickly. The third and final strategy that I recommend in dealing better with a difficult coworker is to try and articulate your problem in terms of your own fears. Most of the issues that we have with other people stem from fears that we have about how that conflict is going to affect us. Let's say for example that in your opinion, one of your coworkers on your team is lazy. Well, your outrage at them being lazy is not some kind of problem that you have with laziness in general. Most likely, it's based on the fear that that person's laziness is going to cause a negative outcome for you. Maybe you're going to have to clean up after them or maybe you're going to have to work extra to make sure the project comes in on time. Or maybe you are worried that this person is going to take advantage of their position and that they're not going to be held accountable for their laziness. And this means a bad outcome for you because it likely creates a dysfunctional team or perhaps you have a fear that you will be treated unfairly, the feeling that you are pulling your weight but the other person isn't. Now, the reason this is so important is because if you can articulate things in terms of your fears, then you can start to address the underlying problem at its source rather than trying to externalize that fear and turn it into kind of an activated targeting mechanism. You can start to kind of work on your internal perspective, your internal relationship with this person and address those fears. These three techniques are all about realizing that you have a relationship with this person, that this isn't about fixing the team. It's not about fixing that person. It's more about fixing how you see that person, how you respond to their actions in the workplace. You're unlikely to change people in your career. You're going to be much better off if you can focus more on changing the way you relate with them and very rarely you may run into a situation where the difficulty is simply not worth it. But most of the time, the relationship work is going to get you to the place where you need to be. And really, this is how you build incredible teams to begin with. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. If you enjoyed this episode, then I encourage you to subscribe to Developer Tea. Whatever podcasting app you are already using. Today's episode wouldn't be possible without spec.fm. There are other awesome podcasts that are built specifically for designers and developers like you who are looking to level up in your careers. Go and check it out spec.fm. Today's episode was produced by Sarah Jackson, my name is Jonathan Cutrell, and until next time, enjoy your tea.