Thursday, 22 December 2016

How to Manage Difficult Situations in the Workplace

Paper Presented For A Workshop For The Delta State Civil Service By Dr. Munonye O. M. Zonal Coordinator, (south south) Institute of Human and Natural Resources

As in all organizations, the civil service can be full of difficult situations that task even the most patient of personnel. Since most of the time it is not possible for the worker to alter the difficult situation, the key lies in being able to anticipate possible difficult situations and them prepare beforehand to handle them when they eventually arrive.

Key Tips for Dealing with Difficult Situations
As a leader or manager you can be sure that there will be difficult situations to deal with from time to time.  These difficult situations might include:
• Dealing with poor individual or team performance
• Trying to improve an organization that is perceived to be failing
• A process that it is not working
• Staff or other resource shortages
• Adverse media coverage
So as a manager or leader what are the key tips for dealing with difficult situations?

Tip 1: Establish facts first
When difficult situations arise, it is all too easy to jump to solution mode too quickly.  While there may be a limited amount of times when fast action is absolutely necessary, your first step to successful resolution it to establish facts.  Remember that facts as opposed to hearsay or opinion are verifiable.

Tip 2: Ask lots of questions
Questions, especially the short powerful variety are a great way of getting to the core issue rather than all the detail that someone is trying to provide to you.  Think of it a bit like peeling an onion, each layer is getting you closer to the core.

Tip 3: Actively listen
There is little point in asking great questions if you are not actively listening to what is being said.  Resist the temptation to jump in before you have properly listened to the different points of view.

Tip 4: Avoid pre-judgment
We all, if we are honest will form some judgments immediately.  While these might be right at the end of the day, don’t let pre-judgment get in the way of establishing the real issues.

Tip 5: Act professionally
The challenge for you is to remain professional at all times.  A good test of this is to ask yourself how you would like to be treated if you were not the manager or leader but an aggrieved party.

Tip 6: Aim for win-win
While this is not always possible, you should aim to find solutions that don’t result in a feeling from one party that they have lost while another has won.  This might require some careful negotiation around what would constitute a good outcome for all those involved.

Tip 7: Remember there is no one size fits all approach
Each situation is different.  While there might be some common ground, remember there is unlikely to a one size fits all approach to difficult situations.   Adapt your approach depending on the situation.
Bottom Line – Handling difficult situations is just part and parcel of managing and leading.  So where do you need to focus your attention in terms of developing your competence?
Smart professionals know that yesterday’s strategies are insufficient for today’s challenges. In Managing Difficult Situations we authentically look at individual and environmental factors that create stress, meltdowns and burn-out and the habits and skills required to proactively manage for success. This course is based on time-tested technique as well as leading-edge thinking in neuroscience and cognitive structuring; it is designed to be interactive, instructive and entertaining. 


Managing in Today’s Work Environment 
  • Manage for the uncertainty of today’s work world; achieving control
  • Understand behavior patterns and how to work with your own perceptions and those of others
  • Time-tested stress management strategies
  • Leading-edge research in neuroscience – manage your brain to manage yourself and challenging situations
  • Four-step process for interrupting old patterns
  • Create the environment you want
Difficult People 
  • Answer the age-old question: “why are difficult people difficult?” 
  • Manage anger and emotions; negativity and anger in others 
  • Style assessments: styles during stressful situations, adapting styles to create collaboration
  • Create communication strategies to match styles and points of view 
  • Artfully managing difficult people and conversations (creating rapport, win/win outcomes)
  • Maintain professionalism and confidence in the workplace
  • Develop creative solutions in maintaining composure and calm 
Communication Skills 
  • Understand conflict – why it happens and how to embrace positive outcomes 
  • Essential communication skills in conflict and collaboration
  • Maintain confidence, composure and professionalism 
  • Verbal and non-verbal communication
Building Positive Relationships 
  • Create a positive atmosphere for communication
  • Identify triggers
  • Develop coping strategies 
  • Create a “MAP” (Management Action Plan)

Some  Difficult Office Situations and How to Deal With Them
In order to maintain a high level of productivity, a positive work environment is absolutely essential. Although many aspects of the workplace are completely under your control, there will be occasions when you are essentially helpless, and the only control you have is how you REACT to a specific situation.
It is these occasions that typify what has been called “drama,” and by that, I mean the bad kind of drama.  While other types of drama–for example, the high school variety — can be fun in a guilty pleasure kind of way, nobody likes drama at work. It only causes problems and can eventually lead to you or someone else getting terminated. The following are 16 potential drama-causing work situations, and what you can do to effectively extinguish them.

1. A co-worker has the annoying habit of [blank] and you can’t stand it anymore.
Drama potential: Obsessively clicking pens. Playing music too loudly. Chewing gum like a cow munching on grass. They may seem like small habits, but they become unnerving when you have to put up with it all for eight hours or more on a daily basis. If you keep it all in, you may just lose it.
How to avoid: Before asking your co-worker to stop a certain behavior, make sure that you aren’t guilty of something as annoying yourself. Also, see what you can do block out the habit that annoys you. Invest in headphones, and try to focus on something else. If you really can’t put up with, then politely ask your co-worker to refrain. Tell them that you get easily distracted. Above all, be nice about it.

2. You suspect someone in the office is working against you.
Drama potential: Your paranoia gets the better of you. You’re put in defensive mode, and you begin actively working against the purported offender.
How to avoid: While there will always be the hyper-competitive co-worker, most people are not out to get you. Recognize that, and half the problem is gone. Dealing with the obnoxiously competitive worker can be accomplished by simply doing your assigned work the best you can. The only one who you are really competing against is yourself, and others will notice when you step up your work goals and accomplishments without stepping over others.

3. A co-worker tries to engage you in a heated religious or political conversation.
Drama potential: Politics and religion are almost always a big no-no in the workplace. Controversial conversations can quickly turn into animosity. Someone may feel offended and can rightfully complain to management.
How to avoid: Just don’t talk about religion or politics. If someone asks for your opinion, try to steer the conversation elsewhere, or laugh it off and say something neutral.

4. A co-worker or superior makes an inappropriate physical advance.
Drama potential: Similar to the broken office romance–but with potentially more nasty consequences–the unwanted pass can spawn gossip, discomfort, or even personal danger.
How to avoid: This situation needs to be dealt with early and quickly. Do not ignore sexual advances and assume that they will go away. First, tell the perpetrator–in private–that you aren’t interested, that you feel uncomfortable, and that you want his or her behavior to stop. Make sure he or she knows that you will file an official complaint if the behavior continues. This will almost always do the trick. If it’s your boss who’s doing it, consult with HR.

5. A co-worker incites you to participate in nasty office gossip.
Drama potential: Participating in gossip may be tempting, but it’s almost always ill-advised. The problem with gossip is its potential to hurt others’ feelings and lose others’ trust. When you participate in gossip, you run the risk of alienating the people with whom you work.
How to avoid: Stay away from notorious gossips. When someone tries to share office gossip with you, try changing the conversation, or simply tell them that you don’t like talking about others because you don’t like it when people talk about you.

6. Someone is stealing your food from the refrigerator. 
Drama Potential: The stealing becomes habitual. You decide to let it slide. You go hungry and resentment builds. Confrontation ensues.
How to avoid: Put your food in some sort of container, and make sure to label it with your name. If it keeps happening, ask, in a non-accusatory manner, if anyone has seen your food items. This usually does the trick. If all else fails, you can always purchase a small personal fridge and keep it under your desk.

7. It’s the company Christmas party, and you want to enjoy yourself.
Drama potential: You have too much to drink, and you make a fool of yourself. You offend others, spill secrets, or act inappropriately or aggressively. You think letting loose during social events can’t hurt? Think again. An acquaintance of mine actually got fired after an embarrassing Christmas party incident. Don’t let that be you.

How to avoid: If you can’t hold your alcohol, simply don’t drink, or drink very slowly.

8. You need a break and want to surf the Internet.
Drama Potential: You begin using your personal e-mail, social networking sites, and other entertainment sites. Before you know it, you’re surfing as you would be surfing at home, sending profanity-filled messages, and watching inappropriate videos.
How to Avoid: Most employers understand the need to take a break, and it’s probably okay that your computer screen isn’t always reflecting your work assignments. Still, keep personal Internet surfing to a minimum. Don’t write emails that you wouldn’t read to the whole office. And whatever you do, keep it clean. Rule of thumb: If your grade school teacher would object, then it‘s not okay.

9. A supervisor entrusts you with a secret, and you gab to just one “trusted” friend. 
Drama Potential: You tell one person, and you ask them not to tell anyone else. Of course, the person you told will do the same–tell one or two people, thinking the buck will stop there. Well, it never stops, and that’s how gossip gets so out-of-control in the first place. As with widespread gossip, telling one little secret has the potential to hurt others, perpetrate lies, and to make matters worse, you’ll lose your credibility.
How to avoid: If someone tells you something in private, assume it’s meant to be kept between you two. It may just be that a supervisor is letting you in to see how well he or she can trust you. Don’t blow it.
10.  You get romantically involved with someone else at work.

Drama potential: The happy couple breaks up, leaving the office environment tense. People feel forced to take sides, perhaps even harassment charges are filed.
How to avoid: Try your best not to get involved with someone at the office. If it does happen, then be professional about it. Hold off on the PDA until after 5. If your relationship dissolves, do not talk about it openly with others. Try to be civil during office hours. If you absolutely feel that you can‘t, ask a supervisor if you can be transferred to a different area of the office, where you won’t be confronted with the ex. While it can be difficult to deny an obvious attraction or connection with a co-worker, most office relationships are simply not worth the drama that they can cause.

11. Your boss overloads you with tasks that aren’t in your work description.
Drama potential: At first it starts out with little things, like “Do you mind doing [insert boss’s task here]?” Eventually, you become your boss’s slave.
How to avoid: Of course, most employees have a strong desire to please their superiors. But bosses aren’t perfect, and there’s nothing worse than having to take on two jobs but getting paid for only one. Sometimes, you just have to learn to say no. Meet with the boss to review your work description. If it becomes an ongoing problem, go to HR. 

12. You’re asked to work on a collaborative project with co-workers with whom you don’t see eye-to-eye.
Drama potential: Group projects can be trying because in order for a group to work effectively, there needs to be a good mix of leadership, people willing to take direction, and so on. Most of the time, groups aren’t formed on such a basis, so there will always be group members butting heads. Sometimes group disagreement can escalate to extreme levels.
How to avoid: If you know from beforehand that you cannot work with a certain co-worker, see if you can apportion certain tasks to each person, then meet only to put the separate parts of  the project together.

13. A very significant event occurred in your personal life. 
Drama potential: You just got married. Of course, we want to share significant events with all of those who are close to us, and that includes people at work. But think before you speak–a small conversation communicating your excitement can easily turn in to an annoying fixation such that no one ever wants to hear you talk ever again.
How to avoid: Don’t become the annoyingly solipsistic loudmouth at work. Keep talk of your personal life to a minimum.

14. You’ve had an argument with a Co-worker and you know you’re right. 
Drama potential: Even though you may be right all of the time, when there are unresolved issues among co-workers, everyone suffers. Refusing to apologize after an argument only keeps the cycle of workplace tension going.
How to avoid: Even if you are right, simply apologize. It is just as important to keep your boss happy as it is to be able to work well with your co-workers. Pride does not belong at work.

15. A colleague or supervisor is doing something wrong, and you want to complain to the company chief.
Drama potential: When something in the workplace is awry, sometimes your first instinct is to take your complaint to the top of the chain of command. Corporate hierarchy is the name of the game with most companies, so if you skip too many levels, you may end up aggravating many who work above you.
How to avoid: Make complaints only to your direct supervisor, and address your complaint as a “concern,” especially if the wrongdoing doesn’t directly involve you. If it is your supervisor who’s at fault, then talk only to his direct supervisor.

16. Work is tough and you have a desire to vent. 
Drama potential: What starts out as innocent venting about the trials of work can turn into full-blown complaining. A constant whiner will not only get a bad reputation at work, but he will also  foster a very negative work environment. This slows productivity. And people will eventually have only you to complain about.

How to deal with it: While there’s always a need to vent about your boss, or about your work assignments, don’t take it too far. Complain constructively.
Your turn/Assignment for incoming weeks
What is one difficult situation have you been in and how do you think you can deal with it?


Definitely the list of difficult situations presented here are not exhaustive, nor the suggestions given here totally conclusive, the primary keys to managing difficult work situations is to love your work. With that love will come tolerance of the people or situations that may be less than perfect.

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