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Advice for your awkward workplace dilemmas

Adriene Hill May 31, 2013

Advice for your awkward workplace dilemmas

Adriene Hill May 31, 2013

How do you thrive — or at least survive — in the office, which can be filled with all sort of craziness? Our conversation about this topic started online. We had people write to us on Facebook and Twitter, and we got a bunch of messages from people looking for advice with how to deal with their workplace dilemmas. Help is at hand in the form of Ben Dattner. He’s an organizational psychologist and author of “The Blame Game.”  

As an adjunct coach at the Center for Creative Leadership, Dattner trains executives about how to maximize success in their careers and have positive impact on the organizations they lead. He’s found that you’ve got to get along with others to get ahead.

“What the Center for Creative Leadership has found over decades of longitudinal research is that people who don’t focus on workplace relationships, on organizational politics and on team dynamics are people who are likely to derail, no matter how smart they are technically, financially, or operationally,” says Dattner.

What can you do about a moody boss?

Jennifer from Baltimore had a boss who praised her in private, but in public would dismiss, humiliate and scold her. We’ve illustrated her problem with host Adriene Hill starring in this comic strip:

So, what do you do with a hot and cold boss?

“The first thing to do is to try to answer the question why. Why is she doing this? Why is she shaming me, undercutting me, and humiliating me? So that can be a tough question to answer. I think people often make the mistake of too quickly going to the boss’ personality and try to understand what is it about the boss’ personality that is causing her to do this? And it may well be the boss’ personality. She might be on the spectrum of some sort of personality disorder or difficulty,” says Dattner. “But before you diagnose that, it’s important to try to figure out what is it also about the situation that might be encouraging her to act that way.”

But Dattner says you shouldn’t let your feelings dictate your actions in the workplace.

“It’s not always possible to make a workplace situation better, but it’s always possible to make it worse. So if you act, if you overreact, if you’re too emotional, if you respond too quickly you can sometimes make things worse,” he says.

Dattner also tackled these other questions from our listeners:

  • William, 45, from Ohio is a paramedic who is regularly paired with younger paramedics. He wants to strategies for dealing with people who are younger than you, but also in charge of you.
  • Julian from New York leads a human resources team. Recently the team, made up of 15 people, has been under a lot of pressure for deliverables and the atmosphere on the team has devolved into a lot of conflict. He’s tried to address the conflict, but nothing seems to be working. What can he do?
  • Jay from Raleigh, N.C., is a support engineer for a communications equipment manufacturer. He works in a cubicle and has a lot of noisy co-workers. He wants to know how to encourage better etiquette in common, open spaces without making people feel singled out. How do you deal with a loud talker?
  • Angela wrote to us on Facebook. She took a job that she is overqualified for after being laid off. She wants to know what she should do when she tries to move up.
  • Kathleen from Pennsylvania is a Ph.D student who works in a research lab. The lab is full of students who are both younger and older. The issue she faces: Younger students don’t really understand the etiquette of business and some foreign students don’t always wear professional attire. How can she approach these students about such questions without offending anyone?

You can get a free, digital copy of Ben Dattner’s book, “The Blame Game” at his website.

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