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It's not me, it's you

Tom Baybrook is managing partner at Marbrook Partners (LinkedIn image).

Tom Baybrook is managing partner at Marbrook Partners.

Consider the micromanager — the one who checks on progress frequently, demands too much of people’s time, treats every problem as a crisis and generally makes the team miserable. How do you handle working with that type of difficult personality?

One of the complexities of working for a living is dealing with people who irritate you. They can be bosses, peers, employees or customers. Assuming that, like most people, you have not won the lottery recently and have limited immediate options for simply walking away, you must find a way to deal with difficult personalities at work.

A number of coping mechanisms come to mind, including avoidance, placation, cajolery, confrontation, behavior modification or plain old endurance with the hope that the person will change over time. Those approaches, however, are negative to neutral, and they generally result in making the situation worse or, at best, support the status quo. Why not take a more positive approach?

Assume, for the moment, that most people want to be successful and do a good job. Let’s also assume that most people do not wake up in the morning planning to irritate you. Of course, a few people will fall outside those norms, but usually they do not stay in one job or place very long, so we’ll discount them.

But even those people who fall within the norms have differing work values, management styles and personalities. The result might be an unhappy work environment. Whether you are the manager, the managed or a colleague, how do you handle those situations?

Start with the premise that everyone has a contribution to make. Your job — whether you manage up, down, across or outside the organization — is to determine what a person’s most important contributions are and try to take advantage of those strengths. By focusing on contribution, you establish a productive work environment and build a pathway to success while limiting areas of irritation.

People like to do what they are good at, and they will excel at those activities, so identify their best traits and push them in that direction.

“Even my boss?” you might ask.

Yes. Consider those irritating, demanding management types mentioned above. What are their strengths? If a manager is good with customers, send her on the road. If another is highly analytical, sign him up for technical reviews. If she’s a nitpicking editor, give her a lot of material to edit. Whatever the strength is, get the colleague in question pointed in that direction.

Will there be a 100 percent improvement? Of course not, but life will be measurably better for everyone.

Likewise, determine the principal contributions of each of your employees, peers and customers, and focus on what they do best. Know their weaknesses as well, and avoid setting them up for failure. Do not depend on them to do well what you know they will not.

Managers can still give employees stretch assignments but should not leave them on their own. Understand that those assignments will take extra guidance and follow-up. One of managers’ key responsibilities is to help people succeed.

What if that approach doesn’t work in a particular case? What if someone truly is outside the norm?

Do it anyway. You will fare better trying the positive approach rather than continuing with a coping mechanism. And if the positive approach doesn’t work, you’ll then be justified in concluding, “It’s not me — it’s you!”

About the Author

Tom Baybrook is managing partner of Marbrook Partners LLC.

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