Managing Awkward People

managing awkward peopleIn the workplace you are always going to come up against awkward people, and unlike in your personal life you can’t just ignore them.

These are the people who seem to go out of their way to derail a project or create dysfunction in the office. There are a number of types to spot from the incompetent & indecisive to the control freak & villain. Common words include ‘can’t’ and ‘won’t’ and there is a distinct tendency to place the blame on others in every situation.

No matter how much you don’t like it, these people are a part of every team and every office and so it is better to learn how to deal with them rather than wasting time fighting them.

Many problems are caused by change but these can be negotiated with Change Management training. Our Leadership and Management Skills courses also have modules on dealing with uncooperative co-workers.

Use these tips to try and create harmony, rather than division, in your team.

Stay Action Focused

Awkward people enjoy two discussions: what went wrong in the past & what will go wrong in the future.

Neither discussion is useful and does little to move forward. Do not indulge in these conversations and seek to avoid them. Explain why you need to move forward and look to them for options.

If somebody is giving you reasons that something won’t work then ask them for an alternative and make sure their views about going forward are clear. This should help you explain why a particular route of action is the best.

Create options so that instead of a ‘yes/no’ question you are asking for the best solution.

Be Positive

Resist the temptation to indulge negative attitudes. Many people respond to awkward people by sympathising with or challenging their views.

Take the first path and you justify their behaviour. Take the second and you make an enemy. Neither of these are acceptable outcomes.

Just ignore them and stay positive. Encourage other team members to do the same and the awkward person will soon grow tired of being ignored and start to get on task. It is very hard to maintain a negative attitude if the rest of the team is being positive and thinking forward. Positivity is just as infectious and negativity.

Avoid Career Enemies

The worst case scenario in dealing with awkward people is turning them into enemies. Especially career enemies who will go out of of their way to make life difficult for you. There are a number of ways they can do this but usually it’s a case of obstructing your work or even spreading rumours.

In a situation like this you do not want to create a public battle. The best form of attack is a good defence. If you already have a good reputation and a strong network then it will be harder for others to sully your name.

If you are worried that problems have escalated then you will want to first talk to the person directly and see if you can work things out. If not then seek the advice of somebody in a higher position – but preferably not a direct boss. They would only be your final option as you don’t want them to think you are incapable of solving your own problems.

As a manager, you will often be put in a situation where one of your team members comes to you with this sort of complaint. It is your responsibility to resolve workplace conflict without taking sides.

In summary:

  • Focus on the future, not the past
  • Find solutions, not problems
  • Discuss, don’t argue
  • Remain positive
  • Remain professional
  • Focus on the task, not the people
  • Don’t indulge in or challenge negative attitudes
  • Win friends, not arguments
  • Only move up the chain of command if you are 100% sure you can’t handle the problem yourself

Have you had any experiences dealing with awkward people? Let us know how you dealt with them in the comments below.

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One Comment

Tyler Murphy says:

Thanks for these tips. at some point in time all managers will probably have to face this issue and managing awkward people can be tricky!It’s easy to become negative like you mentioned earlier as a way of levelling with them – but it is important to stay positive and to try and keep up their spirits.

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