On 29th January I was invited to be an expert on the Guardian Careers panel on the topic of dealing with difficult colleagues in the workplace. You can find the whole discussion here but in the article below I have tried to pull together some of the most interesting questions and my answers to them. Hope you find it useful.
Q: How do you deal with difficult people in meetings?
A: First of all, we need to understand what is meant under ‘difficult’ people in meetings – do they interrupt, don’t contribute or are simply moody and unresponsive?
There are different techniques for various categories above. For instance, if somebody interrupts constantly, a wise thing to do might be to have a quick chat with them during the break (if you are in the position of a meeting leader) or say ‘ we will address all your concerns at the end or on a one-to-one basis’. If somebody doesnt usually contribute, then the best thing may be to preempt it by asking them to prepare something specific for the meeting.
If somebody is plainly being rude, then talking to them in a break or before the meeting itself may be a good idea.
Q: I have called an informal meeting with a manager about a manager who I feel is bullying me. What is the best way of preparing for it?
A: First of all, you need to understand the internal politics of the company very well to succeed in this kind of meeting, for instance, are these two friends? Do they like each other? Would be also helpful to know who out of the two is more senior as it would affect your approach and the angle you should take.
Generally, jot down the facts one by one to provide the evidence and how you responded to each case. It is quite a serious claim you are making so you need to be 100% sure you want to progress it as it would probably affect your situation within the company.
Have you tried speaking directly to the ‘offending’ manager? Always the best way forward in the first instance.
Q: I am invisible (deliberately) to my 2 supervisors contrary to how they treat the rest of my team. Have you any advice?
A: I would suggest arranging an informal meeting with them to discuss how you feel as it sounds like it may have been going on for some time already. Prepare well in advance of the meeting and be very respectful and polite when you attend. There may be some issues they have with something concerning you as well which affects their attitude – this informal coffee chat should be able to flash the issue out.
Q: I have been in my organisation for about 13 months. I work as a manager but unfortunately I have not had the responsibilities of a manager. Instead my manager makes me book meetings, print off documents for her infant, I do all her secretary tasks (ps due to cost saving the organisation did not replace the secretary when she left).
I have informed my supervisor about this but the “menial jobs” haven’t stopped. What can I do in this situation? I had a review recently and my manager is happy about my performance but I am not happy with the secretarial bits on the side.
A: Did your supervisor promise the menial tasks will end during your meeting? Or was the outcome of the meeting inconclusive?
I would send the follow up email from the meeting outlining the things you have discussed and agreed on.
You could also ask for more responsibility as she is happy with your performance and frame it along the angle of further intellectual and on the job development related directly to the job at hand.