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Workwise: Stopped being drained by a co-worker

Some people will tell you to avoid a co-worker who drains you. People with a psychological bent often suggest detaching.

“That’s a pipedream,” comments librarian Gina Gallo of Sophie B. Wright Charter School Library in Lacombe, La.

She also states that avoiding the person will create stress for you.

"We don’t have the choice of disengaging," remarks Raphael Lapin, president of Conflict Management Inc., in San Jose, where he consults worldwide with large organizations, including difficult individuals and teams.

If you must work face-to-face, you need specific tactics to deal with them.

Lapin, author of "Working With Difficult People" (DK Publishers, $8.00), maintains that difficult people are motivated by "the intent of dominating you. ... Unless you have a process of your own, you are likely to be drawn into playing the game their way."

IDENTIFYING

Recognizing behaviors that cause you to feel drained is a first step. Gallo, who's worked where teachers constantly complained, identifies them as people "who, when you say hello, can't just chit-chat. They always have to bring you into their personal life or drama. This information is always horrible and it’s draining. They’re often people who bring their personal problems to work. Those unhappy with one aspect of their job let one thing kill the job."

Caroline Miller of Bethesda, Md.’s Caroline Miller Coaching L.L.C., coaches people to make their work environment as positive as possible. She says to watch for people who:

"don’t always have a smile on their face;

"use critical, contemptuous and cynical words; and

"treat other people with contempt, cynicism and eye-rolling."

COUNTERACTING

You have more alternatives than you think to keep a co-worker from draining you.

Lapin remarks, "You have to deal with it and not allow it to continue."

For example, he advises people who blame other people to "engage them in problem-solving to solve their own problem by saying, ‘Let’s talk about ways to streamline the process.' "

If your co-worker is defeatist, respond with, " 'What specifically makes you think it won't work? Give me some ideas about how we can improve on it.' "

Miller would agree, recommending that you elicit their opinions: "Create more questions where you put things out that are more positive, such as 'What do you think of this?' and 'How do you think this would play out?' "

However, some people don't think quickly on their feet, especially when they're in conflict. Lapin advises that you "delay your reaction and give it some thought ... at least a few minutes. Think of yourself as a coach, not a judge. Ask yourself how you can coach the person to be more effective and productive. Fill the process vacuum in a quiet and powerful way."

Gallo uses a very different method. She says that you can focus on being positive even if you’re not an optimist.

When someone complains, change the focus with, "You know, I’m having a great day. Maybe I can help."

She observes that people who drain other people aren’t focused on the work. Drawing them into it will compel them to redirect their thinking. She says that even small questions can be effective. If the bad news is that the person's brother was fired, she advises turning that into something positive, such as, "Oh, your brother got fired? I am so sorry. Thank goodness we still have jobs."

Sometimes being subtle won’t change the focus. In that case, Gallo recommends, build a bridge to the work by saying, "Maybe we can talk about that later, but right now, I would like to give all of my focus to this project."

If the person rambles, Lapin says to "interrupt, summarize their relevant points and then ask a closed-ended question to regain control."

That’s what it’s all about -- regaining the control you let slip away.

Dr. Mildred L. Culp welcomes your questions at culp@workwise.net. Copyright 2009 Passage Media.

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