Young employees have to find the maturity to stay in a job while they learn how to deal with people they may not like – and discover what makes them tick.
On March 21, 1978, I was suspended from school for what was termed by my headmaster a "grave offence". (It was for leaving school to visit some girls at lunchtime, so it wasn't that grave, really.) In April 2014, I received an email from the same headmaster expressing how proud he was of my performance during a television interview, although he also pointed out that I had made some grammatical mistakes.
If you were to have told either of us back in 1978 that we were destined to share a close relationship for more than 30 years – or even have any sort of contact with one another at all – we would have laughed at the idea. But a few years after I had left school, our paths crossed and we found it within ourselves to "suck it up", reconcile, and our relationship has flourished ever since. Today, instead of resisting his appraisals of my performance, I embrace them.
This illustrates how relationships can start out as one thing, but, with an open and empathetic mind, can develop into something else. Life is a long game and there are no absolutes; no more is that the case than with the people you meet in both personal and professional contexts. With the latter, finding a way to coexist with colleagues we may find difficult is essential: unlike in our personal lives, we can't just ignore them.
It is for this reason – particularly as a new entrant into the workforce or a new recruit in an organisation – that "sucking it up" is a good place to start when dealing with complex or problematic people. What do I mean by sucking it up?
It's about finding the resolve to stay in a role that you do not necessarily like until you learn how to like it and respect the people you don't want to be with. If you can embrace this fundamental human discipline, it will hold you in good stead forever.
My experience has taught me that problematic people are often that way because of circumstances in their life that you have no control over.
It is not your responsibility or right to try and change them; your challenge is to test different ways to engage. This is a huge first step in learning to become a leader.
If I could rewrite one thing in my early working life, it would be the near-fatal mistake I made of assuming that every time I did not like a person or team, the smartest thing to do was quit and move on to something else.
For years I kept swapping roles for those immature, superficial and unrealistic reasons. That is the short game to avoid. Particularly in the early years of our career, suffering from a self-inflicted expectation gap is an all too easy mistake to make. To protect yourself, lower your expectations of feeling completely fulfilled, that everybody around you will match your vision of perfection.
Just focus on the art of living with people. In my instance, it was not that my colleagues were uncaring of me: it was more that I was expecting the world to come to me, rather than I become part of the world.
This is an easy trap to fall into. I urge you to be smarter than I was.
As a CEO, there are a number of disciplines that I encourage to assist people in "sucking it up" when dealing with difficult people.
1) Be self-aware
You can't resolve a problem unless you identify your own contribution to it. One of the toughest tests for all of us is to marry our self-awareness with another person's perceptions of you so they are consistent. If your view of yourself is very different to others' perceptions, it will likely provoke conflict and misunderstanding.
Constantly focus on enhancing your own self-awareness by testing different approaches when engaging with colleagues, particularly the ones you might be having issues with.
Identifying and understanding the impact you have on others is the key to evolving a relationship into something better.
2) Protect your confidence
Some work cultures can be both overly critical and political in nature.
While these environments will test your confidence, you should never let them wound it. Protect your confidence so you can draw on it to help you through the tough times.
Confidence is a state of mind: consciously and consistently remind yourself of that when someone is putting you under pressure or is critical of you. Decisive and consistent behaviour have always been my weapons of choice for protecting my confidence; tough cultures will take advantage of procrastination or tentativeness.
In my experience, if you're consistent with this approach they will eventually come to believe that you are unshakeable and, consequently, will relate to you more positively.
3) Always seek to learn
As a child it used to annoy me when well-meaning adults would say that life is about continuous learning. Now that I am a well-meaning adult, I agree with them. When you're confronted with a trying colleague or circumstance, understand that these are valuable moments.
While it may be unpleasant at the time, find solace in the fact that you will learn something important from the experience. In turn, it will help you grow not just as a professional, but also as a person. Having these experiences in your portfolio will help you manage future challenging relationships; so don't contest them when they happen. Embrace them.
On reading this, reflect on your equivalent "headmaster" relationship in your life right now.
Reset your thinking. Remember there are no absolutes in life and focus on how you might be able to rebuild that relationship rather than trying to avoid or resist it. Make this approach a habit and the twists and turns of relationships in the professional world won't seem so difficult.
The Naked CEO Alex Malley’s tips for succeeding in life:
- When dealing with difficult people, ask yourself if there’s anything you can do to improve the situation. Remember, nobody is perfect.
- Looking for a new job at the first sign of conflict is not the answer. There’ll always be people who work differently to you, no matter where you go.
- Never let a tough work situation affect your confidence. Remind yourself when under pressure that confidence is a state of mind.
- Try to remember that one day you’ll look back on it all as a learning experience.
This article first ran in the Weekend Herald, New Zealand: http://nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11449379
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