Solving Some People Problems

As I’ve suggested more than once, your level of productivity and success is intimately tied up with the people around you, and with the ways you’re able to interact with them.

Their preferences and characteristics help to shape your experiences and opportunities. Their strengths contribute to your successes. Their weaknesses make what you do more difficult.

So it stands to reason that, as you become more adept and skillful at understanding, influencing, and working with other people, you’ll get better results in your own work and life.

Here are a couple of tips to help you work more effectively with certain kinds of people:

When A Person Is Unsociable

Get ready for a surprise: we’re not all extroverted, life-of-the-party, charismatic types. Some of us are shy, quiet, slow to warm up, grumpy, unhappy, temperamental, or otherwise unsociable.

None of this need have anything to do with the person’s ability to work hard and accomplish important tasks and objectives. But unsociability does present a challenge for anyone who tries to work with such a person.

In most cases, the most important step toward working well together is to discover the reason for the unsociability. You can ask, but you might not get an accurate answer – or any answer at all. When you don’t, it’s helpful to use your instincts, emotional intelligence, empathy, and contacts with others who know the unsociable person to try and gain some insight into the source(s) of this unsociability.

Any clues you may obtain will help you formulate a plan to gain trust and communicate better with the unsociable person.

Whatever your plan, it’s always helpful to present a friendly ear and an encouraging attitude. By withholding judgment and offering emotional support, you can often begin to forge a satisfactory working relationship with the unsociable person, and maybe even lessen some of their reluctance to engage.

When A Person Is Combative

Here’s another surprise: some people just like to argue. They thrill to saying “no,” taking an opposing stance, and generally fomenting conflict in their relationships.

There can be many reasons for this. They may have a strong need to be right about everything, or a “know it all” attitude. They may simply lack the skills so necessary for getting along well with others.

Whatever the source of the combativeness, you can usually find ways to disarm some of this antagonistic attitude and begin to accomplish some useful work with this kind of person.  

The key is not to engage in the combat. This generally means:

  • Don’t argue unnecessarily, and never over the small stuff.
  • Don’t dispute opinions or attitudes.
  • Don’t focus on who’s right or wrong, who’s smart, and who’s not.
  • As much as possible, steer clear of “testy” subjects.

Instead, acknowledge differing points of view, but move the conversation steadily toward whatever specific task requires that the two of you work together.

When you need the combative person’s help, come prepared with detailed requests for specific actions, and great reasons why all this needs to be done. When they need your help, stay as friendly as you can and let any abrasiveness you perceive roll off your back.

Use all your communication skills and interpersonal intelligence to concentrate on the important matters in the conversation, including:

  • What needs to get done?
  • The goal, the deadline, and the criteria for success.
  • What resources are available?

It’s important to understand that the combative person is not fighting with you for any personal reasons. In many cases, combat is just their preferred – sometimes their only – style of interacting with others. It’s another example of the adage: “To a person with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

This may be primarily a “male” thing, but combativeness can sometimes become the fabric that binds people together. Think of two boxers or wrestlers who emerge from a fierce bout as friends, having taken the measure of each other and having found a level of mutual respect.

For most of us, it’s easier and more pleasurable to work with people who are sociable and accommodating. But when these traits are lacking, you may still be able to work with difficult people in ways that enhance your productivity and success.  

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