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Difficult Coworker? One Quick Way To Turn The Relationship Around

BLOG-2.25.15

Do you fight at work? Fist fights are rare but toe-to-toe yelling matches, stonewalling, passive resistance and backbiting are all too common in the workplace. Do you think that if so-and-so weren’t so stubborn or political, your job would be much easier?

If so, you aren’t alone. Nearly one-third of executives and employees argue with a co-worker at least once a month, according to a survey of 1,000 workers by Fierce Inc., a Seattle leadership development and training company specializing in workplace communication. Work warfare, even in the form of passive resistance, wastes energy, lowers morale and reduces productivity. You can be a high performer individually but adversarial relationships with your co-workers can cause loss of trust up and down the management chain, and damage your products and customer relationships.

As an executive coach, I’m privy to many of my clients’ struggles with their colleagues. My inbox contains “evidence” of why their COO is impossible to work with. I see them bicker with colleagues in meetings. I’ve discovered that one of the most effective ways to move beyond these battles is both simple and disarming: Ask your adversary for help.

Several years ago Dennis and Tim (not their real names) were locked in an adversarial relationship neither seemed able to break. The two managers head up engineering teams that need to collaborate to produce software. Dennis’s team develops the software program that Tim and his team then test before it’s ready for release to customers. Dennis has to complete his work in order for Tim to start his. And until Tim provides his stamp of approval, the software keeps going back to Dennis to fix the defects. Both Dennis and Tim are strong performers with deep technical knowledge. Two years ago, conflicts between the two seriously threatened an important software release. They wasted hours of meeting time on turf battles. Their teams were confused about priorities. Their manager’s manager eventually needed to intervene, and the software release was delayed by three months — causing it to go over budget.

At the end of the project, Tim received a below-average performance review. He directed his anger and frustration at Dennis, blaming Dennis’s ego and stubbornness.

Tim’s manager wanted to invest in his development and help him work more effectively with his colleagues. Tim was motivated to improve his performance. The company hired me as Tim’s coach.

During our work together, I posed a challenge to Tim: Find a way to ask Dennis for help.

This challenge touches on research by Wharton management professor Adam Grant on workplace altruism. Grant believes the greatest untapped human motivation is a sense of service to others — that giving, in effect, is the secret to getting ahead. In my work with Tim, I reversed Grant’s concept, considering the value, not of giving aid, but of requesting aid. What would happen if we asked others to help us? If giving motivates human beings, then how will a request to give affect an adversarial relationship?

In other words, if giving is the secret to getting ahead, then asking is the secret to getting along.

Click here to read the full article.

Fierce, Inc. was sited in this Forbes article written by contributor, Sabrina Nawaz. 

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