Please help me be nicer to people
June 18, 2010 2:14 PM   Subscribe

I get snappy with certain work colleagues, sometimes to the point of being downright rude, and this upsets people. I usually apologise and we move on, but it's gotten to the point that it's starting to impact on my working relationships, and I want to stop. It's unprofessional, not nice for anyone involved, and bad for the project. I need to find ways of managing my stress better and not letting it manifest itself in cutting comments or disparaging remarks or general rudeness. Please help!!!

I'm working on a long term project with a large group of people, some of whom are better at their jobs than others.

I'm have high standards for myself and others, I'm not the most patient person in the world and I struggle to deal with people who are incompetent. My part of the project is severely underresourced (this is in the process of being resolved) and so I'm under a lot of pressure. Add to this the fact that I'm not the best delegator and sometimes interfere in others' work where it impacts on mine and isn't going well. We also have far too many meetings and I find that frustrating. (NB: None of this is an excuse for my behaviour – it's just for context – other people manage to remain nice when under pressure so I know it's possible!)

Most people like working with me when I'm not in stress-overload mode – I'm energetic, supportive, occasionally amusing, and very good at what I do. I can be diplomatic and provide constructive feedback. But I'm starting to get a reputation as being unpredictable and some people are becoming wary of me, and I need to stop this before it becomes more of a problem than it already is.

All advice welcome...

P.S. Outside work, I'm actually pretty laid back. This is specifically a work problem for me.
posted by finding.perdita to Human Relations (20 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
You can say pretty much anything to anyone when you're laughing it off at the same time. This keeps amazing me. Maybe try saying the same criticism with the same words, but with a smile?
posted by oxit at 2:19 PM on June 18, 2010

i ride a bike to work and i find that if i don't the odds of me being a dick are way way way higher. a little exercise before work will do a ton of good.
posted by nathancaswell at 2:28 PM on June 18, 2010

Anger management techniques are a very big help in controlling and mastering this kind of behavior.

Also, you may want to read Don't Shoot the Dog. Positive reinforcement works on everyone, not just dogs, and really does wonders in getting desirable behavior from other people -- negative reinforcement gets you just about anything else. I suggest this because it sounds as though the biggest problem you are having is getting others to perform as you'd prefer.
posted by bearwife at 2:34 PM on June 18, 2010

You can say pretty much anything to anyone when you're laughing it off at the same time.

Not to me you can't.

At the very least, come back later and apologize for bad stuff said, preferably before witnesses. Very disarming. (But try to make it unnecessary.)
posted by IndigoJones at 2:39 PM on June 18, 2010 [7 favorites]

I'm not clear about your role on this project. In my experience, projects are nearly *always* underresourced - so you may have to just suck that one up.
Regarding perceived "incompetence" - this is an extremely judgmental stance to take, and thinking this way of your team mates will not help you be less disparaging.
You may want to begin with a bit of humility - I'm guessing you're not great at absolutely everything you do (or try to do), so remind yourself of that, and go easier on others. People seldom work at their best when under stress, and if you're adding to their stress - well, they are not going to be better, that's for sure.
Meetings are indeed a pain, and sometimes you just need to say "no." Try to talk to the Project Manager about this, and see if that person can help manage these distractions.
"...not the best delegator..." also belies a lack of trust in others. This is a tough habit to break, but if you can try harder to limit yourself to what you can reasonably do, and not be a 'hero' that may help. Many corporate cultures reward the hero, so this could be very hard. Try to find ways to trust your co-workers - and be wary of ascribing motive to behavior. Often, people ares simply struggling, same as you.
Mindfulness is the key here - which is also hard when you're under pressure; but if you can make yourself stop and empathize, and think before you speak - that should work. It's part of being an adult, and one of the hardest parts, I think.
posted by dbmcd at 2:40 PM on June 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

"...have high standards for myself and others" probably means you're a perfectionist. If you are able to start letting yourself off the hook for falling short of 100% on everything you do, you'll find it far easier to let others off the hook as well. All without giving up an ounce of caring about the quality of the work produced by you and your teammates.
posted by DrGail at 2:53 PM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

finding.perdita said: "I'm have high standards for myself and others, I'm not the most patient person in the world and I struggle to deal with people who are incompetent."

Remind yourself constantly that you are you, and that other people are completely outside the realm of your control. You can control yourself as much as you want, but you can't control another person, no matter how hard you try. Remind yourself of this less often. If it helps, put yourself in the other person's shoes, and ask yourself how you would like it? Also, remind yourself that nobody likes to be judged. Have a look at "shoulding" in this list of cognitive distortions. CBT isn't only for depression.

You are in complete control of your mouth. Always remember that.
posted by Solomon at 3:01 PM on June 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Leave long pauses between other people finishing and you starting to say your piece.

Keep it focused on the facts of the project and make it clear nothing is personal.
posted by jeffamaphone at 3:12 PM on June 18, 2010

Think of your behavior as your work. Be as perfectionistic about your professionalism (and it is professionalism!) as about your work product. If you start to see your behavior in the workplace as part of the work you deliver, you may be able to change it.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 3:35 PM on June 18, 2010 [9 favorites]

When you're feeling short-tempered or stressed, take a space walk.

This can be just to the bathroom and back, one flight of stairs or once around the building. Take that time to think about what's going on in your head and what might happen if you say it out loud. Say it out loud to yourself, if you're alone, what does it sound like to you? How would your co-workers react to you if you voiced your concerns in a different way? Seriously, space walks can help a lot.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 3:59 PM on June 18, 2010

Every time you do it, find the person afterward, apologize, and tell them it's something you're actively working on.

You'll get very sick of this, which will help you develop the observational techniques to monitor your reactions better (I'm sure you know, but you have to catch it early, when you first start to get annoyed -- neck tension, gripping a pen, holding your breath -- that sort of thing. )
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:17 PM on June 18, 2010

Combining Indigo Jones and A Terrible Llama's advise could work nicely. Every time you get out of line, apologize to whovever was there when it happened (the target of the comments plus witnesses if there were any, since I'm sure they were made to feel uncomfortable.) Include as part of the apology the fact that you are working on it. You may find that some people are willing to help you with it. Perhaps a quiet code word or an uspoken signal if they see you are starting to get annoyed.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:01 PM on June 18, 2010

If you happen to find yourself growing defensive about an issue, disengage if at all possible, stick to facts if it's not.

"I have to [go do X] now, but let's pick this up again after [lunch] [my 1 p.m. meeting] [whatever]" will serve you well in situations where you can employ it.

If it's not possible to give yourself breathing room, take a moment to identify clearly what it is you want from the interaction, and what the other party/parties want, before you respond. Count backward from ten if you're seeing red before even attempting anything else (including coherent thought).

You sound a lot like my supervisor at work who is awesome to be around 95% of the time, but tends to take things personally and lash out when he gets frustrated. It's not at all easy to train yourself out of the habit of saying the first thing that's on your mind if that's your deal, but that's where you have to go. There is an awful lot of pith in the old saw that one ought to treat others as one would like to be treated, so mull that over, too.
posted by trunk muffins at 5:14 PM on June 18, 2010

I get like this, too. Sometimes if I'm stressed I start to see my coworkers as problems hindering my progress instead of as nice people I actually like and admire. Some strategies that have helped me:

Make sure you eat enough- when I'm overworked I forget to eat, and low blood sugar makes me a horror. Keep healthy, high-protein, quickie snacks on hand- almonds, hard-boiled eggs, beef jerky, yogurt, cheese & crackers, etc. For brownie points, maybe you could even bring in treats to share once in a while; after everyone's had a homemade cookie together, the next couple hours tend to fly by pretty stress-free.

Schedule in breaks for yourself- make your timer beep every hour and when it does, go for a quick walk to grab a drink of water or see the sun or whatever. Even a 2-minute change of context will probably help you keep mood perspective.

Wear a watch or bracelet or rubber band on one wrist. Every time you feel snippy, switch the bracelet to the other wrist. This will help you keep tabs on your behaviour.

Make a point of seeing the good in your coworkers. Ask them about their lives and hobbies, compliment their work, laugh at their jokes. Make a conscious effort to bond with them and have pleasant social time- maybe invite a different one along on a coffee run each day and have friendly conversation about something pleasant. Once you remember they're people who are just doing their best to get by, you'll like them more.

Connect with your coworkers outside of work if you can. Hang out in real life, lend them books or videos, make them mix CDs, use social media to see them as fully-dimensional people- ie, read their blogs, comment on their Facebooks, send funny texts or emails, send them links to non-work things they may be interested in, etc. It's another way to see them as people, not problems, and to earn their goodwill by being kind and thoughtful and friendly. Building relationships like this will have a double benefit: you'll be less likely to get snippy at your newly-close coworkers, and if you are, they'll be more likely to attribute your slip-ups of temper to circumstance, not personality.

Good on you for trying to fix this, and good luck!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 5:20 PM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

try acknowledging this to the colleague you snapped at...(this method might be hard to implement depending if there are many colleagues you snapped at) go out to lunch with the person, and mention that you are trying lately to stop snapping, that the quality of work is really important to you and sometime you get stressed out and that it's never anything personal....say this as a general statement in terms of what you're thinking about lately and what you're trying to change about yourself (decreasing this reaction to stress) maybe ask for methods that work for that other person.... i wouldn't make it specific to that person unless you snapped at them really badly.... when people i work with are difficult, it would mean a world to me to know that the person views this as their personality flaw and not a reaction to something they don't like about me and or my work.
posted by saraindc at 5:30 PM on June 18, 2010

Good for you for recognizing what's going on. I have three pretty basic strategies that you might try.

- Really think about why people aren't measuring up. This will help you be realistic about your expectations, and give you excuses to internally offer up for them when you are disappointed. People flake on me ALL THE TIME. In my case, that is because they have a billion things going on, and I'm halfway down their list of priorities, so only about 20 percent of the time do they make it through the first 500,000,000 tasks they had to do to get to my request. So, I never get mad about it. All I can say is "I know you're really busy, so of course you haven't managed to finish, I understand. By when do you think you will be able to finish?" I work the 20 percent success rate into my estimates, and I increasingly rely on those people who succeed 65 percent of the time. Anyway, that's my life. But in your life, if your coworkers are just bad at their jobs, maybe they are poorly trained. Maybe they are far out of their league (either intelligence-wise or experience-wise). Maybe they have a very difficult and distracting personal life, like a sick family member. If those things are facts, get used to them. Have realistic expectations. Do not blame your coworkers pointlessly. You wouldn't blame your dog for not having mowed the lawn.

- Maximize the likelihood of success through your own actions. In other words, blame yourself whenever possible. "I'm sorry, I must've not told you the date we were shooting to finish, but we are trying to finish by Tuesday, so can you now please..." "I'm sorry, I must've not made clear that that date was an actual deadline, but Tuesday in fact is a deadline, so could you please stay and help..." "I'm sorry, I must've not communicated how essential it was that we met the deadline, but if we don't finish by Tuesday, XYZ will happen, so please, can you send me..." Maybe you're not motivating them, setting high expectations, giving positive feedback, communicating the urgency and importance of the work, getting their firm and clear agreement, adequately describing the task, making clear what a polished product would look like, or getting the buy-in from their supervisor and teammates for them to spend enough time on your project. If you were a martyr-style perfectionist who was solely hard on yourself and rarely held others accountable, I'd give you the opposite advice, but since you're taking your frustration out on them, and since really, you can only control yourself, I'd suggest you practice assuming that you were at fault. (Similarly, I'm working to boost my 20% success rate up to around 45% by moving my project up their list of priorities. Perhaps interestingly, the strategies I'm trying are consistently being pleasant and fun, having high expectations, and making them feel like their help is valuable -- all of which might be being undercut by your internal and external approach to your coworkers.)

- Apply your perfectionism to your communication style. As some point out, it really is part of professionalism. Read books on business communication, project management, staff supervision, and providing negative feedback. Read books on non-violent communication. There are very basic communication tactics that you can learn and apply, and if you consider these part of what you are trying to do, you may find that they do really boost your work success.

Good luck. We all have our challenges, and seeking help on your own really shows an admirable dedication to self-examination and self-improvement.
posted by salvia at 5:31 PM on June 18, 2010

Think carefully about whether you really need to say anything in response to something irritating that has been done/said, and err on the side of keeping quiet. Also, assume that while it may look like someone has simply done a bad job it is possible that some of it was not under their control (another big project came up that they were unexpected pulled into, their computer crashed...).

If you are in charge of the project and you are upset about something, ask questions--not rhetorical ones--to try and help resolve any issues that you see and to clarify why things were done the way that they were. You can do this if you are not in charge as well, but tread lightly--at some point it may simply not be your place to ask for too much detail. But asking questions can be quite useful if you have to respond to something (either because it was addressed to you, or because something was inaccurately described or was actually done in a way that will really impair the project) because it makes you look as though you are engaged in the discussion and it gives you some time to work through your irritation and may actually result in you getting information that appeases your annoyance.

Also, while it may not be a good long term strategy, while you are trying to get this under control you might want to pretend that whoever you are annoyed with just had a beloved grandparent die. Okay, they are maybe being a bit dense and you would have done a better job than they did but hey, their grandmother just died so you will cut them some slack (who knows, maybe their grandmother did just die).

Anyway, best of luck with this--it is commendable that you are trying to improve your interactions with your colleagues!
posted by pie_seven at 5:33 PM on June 18, 2010

When I wake up on the wrong side of bed, or am otherwise able to predict a short temper, I write "BE NICE" on the back of my hand. Seeing it all day reminds me not to take it out on people, and having it written there has resulted in a lot of people seeing and asking about it. I've heard from colleagues I work closely with that it gives them a heads up when to approach me with caution too.

All of this only works because I'm honestly trying to be nice to people. Sounds like you are too.

What helps? Deep breaths, stopping a conversation before it really gets aggravating, walks around the block, and reminders that what I'm doing is not all that important in the scheme of things. It does get easier. Good luck.
posted by nadise at 7:01 PM on June 18, 2010

Circulate a ding training pamphlet to all your team members, and encourage them to use the method when interacting with you.
posted by flabdablet at 4:05 AM on June 19, 2010

And preface it with the part of your question above the fold.
posted by flabdablet at 4:07 AM on June 19, 2010

« Older Berber-Fu   |   Reconstructive urology in NYC? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.