Have you worked with the person who is so driven to get ahead they willingly step over others to make it happen? What about the incessant gossip who chooses to make everyone's business his or her own?
People management expert Karen Gately says that it's an unfortunate reality that most of us will at some point work with a bitchy, political, nasty co-worker. Driven by their own agenda these people care little about the team or having a positive impact on other people. While emotional intelligence and self-discipline can go a long way, Karen says that even the most resilient among us can be worn down by their destructive behaviour. The most important choices any of us can make when faced with bitchy people at work are:
Do your part
How we each choose to behave has the ability to profoundly impact the quality of not only our own but also other people's work experiences and ultimately success. Keep your behaviour at a standard you can be proud of. Choose to disengage from unhealthy conversations and let the insults bullies direct at you go -through to the keeper'.
Take a stand
As tempting as it can be to ignore bitchy behaviour, the sad reality is unless challenged the issue will most likely persist. Choose to take a stand against behaviours that have a detrimental impact on the health and wellbeing of you and other people. Keep your approach honest and respectful. Avoid accusations and personal criticism – focus rather on the behaviour and the consequences for you or the team.
Be an open and trusting person, but ensure also that you recognise those around you with ill intent. Taking a stand on behalf of other people begins with understanding there is an issue. It's common for people to report being naive to the experiences their colleagues are going through. Bullying investigations often reveal a degree of ignorance and lack of empathy on the part of not only superiors but also co-workers.
Look for Ownership
We are all capable of behaving badly from time to time. While none of us is perfect the extent to which we take ownership for our conduct and impact on others is very revealing. Beware the person who all too quickly avoids responsibility or -throws people under the bus'.
Challenge Unhealthy Behaviour
Challenge people who are either unwilling or incapable of behaving respectfully toward you or others. Have expectations of the way people conduct themselves. Hold reasonable expectations that people behave with respect and decency toward you. If they don't, have the courage to raise concern with the way you are treated. If confronting a bully is difficult seek the support and advice you need from people within or outside of your organisation.
Karen Gately is a leadership and people-management specialist and a founder of Ryan Gately. Karen works with leaders and HR teams to drive business results through the talent and energy of people. She is the author of The People Manager's Toolkit: A Practical guide to getting the best from people (Wiley) and The Corporate Dojo: Driving extraordinary results through spirited people. For more information visit www.karengately.com.au
Question: What are your top tips to beat office politics?
Karen Gately: Do your part: Govern your own behaviour and don't pass on gossip, questionable judgments or spread rumors. Keep your own behaviour at a standard you can be proud of.
Take a stand: against nasty or political behaviours that have a detrimental impact on the health and wellbeing of you and other people.
Be aware: be an open and trusting person, but ensure also that you recognise the political hierarchy in your organisation. Understand both the formal and informal -chain of command'
Build relationships: focus on building strong relationships based on trust and respect. Avoid empty flattery – be authentic and sincere in your intentions.
Avoid cliques: develop a strong network across your organisation. While it may be important to influence some groups, avoid joining alliances that may not serve you or the organisation well.
Question: How can we politely excuse ourselves from a conversation where a co-worker is gossiping?
Karen Gately: Let the person or people you are talking to know that you are uncomfortable with the nature of your conversation. Comment that you would prefer not to talk about the topic.
In some circumstances you may want to challenge your colleagues to speak more respectively, an in others you are better placed walking away.
Have confidence that choosing not to engage in gossip is the right thing to do. Choose to behave in ways you can be proud of and know that every time you challenge or disengage from gossip you are making a positive contribution to the culture of your organisation.
Question: How can we approach the topic of a nasty co-worker to management?
Karen Gately: Provide honest insight to your concerns and deliver your feedback constructively.
Be respectful and balanced in your feedback and your manager is more likely take your concerns seriously.
Being unnecessarily harsh in your comments can undermine the extent to which your manager understands the reasonableness of your complaints and need to act.
Focus on the behaviours that concern you and avoid personal criticisms of the person you are complaining about.
Question: If we feel bullied within our workplace; how is best to respond?
Karen Gately: The most important first step is making the decision to not allow anyone to bully you.
Set the standard of conduct you will accept from anyone and act with strength in holding people accountable to those standards.
While undeniably daunting at times, its critical that you tell the bully their behavior is unwelcome and needs to stop.
Get the support you need to address the issue from colleagues, your manger, the HR team or someone outside of the business.
Question: How can we challenge this unnecessary behaviour?
Karen Gately: Hold reasonable expectations that people behave with respect and decency. If they don't, have the courage to raise concern with the way you or others are being treated.
Engage in honest conversation about the impacts of the person's behaviour on you, others and even their own reality. Be upfront while at the same time sensitive in your approach.
Take time to think about what you need to say and how you will go about it.
Give thought to what you need to say and be prepared for how they may respond to the points you intend to bring up. Consider how you might deal with push back and keep the conversation a productive one.
Deliver honest feedback with respect and sensitivity. Avoid criticizing their character; rather focus on the impacts of their behavior.
Remain objective and communicate your desire for a positive work environment that will enable the whole team to thrive. Help them to understand why their current approach is undermining that culture.
Question: What inspired you to research into the topic of office politics?
Karen Gately: All to often I meet people whose health, wellbeing and ultimately careers are undermined by nasty behaviours from the people they work with.
Just as common are teams whose potential is constrained by unhelpful thinking and behaviour from some people. Nasty, political environments drain the spirit of the team and undermine success.
Thriving people enable thriving businesses. It isn't possible for people to be at their best, to reach the peaks of their potential if required to regularly endure nasty or political behaviour.
Great team's who collaborate well and achieve ambitious goals together, are enabled by a positive and ambitious culture, that doesn't include nasty office politics.
Question: Can you talk about your own challenges of unhealthy office relationships?
Karen Gately: I learned early in my career that not everyone is nice nor has good intentions. I worked with a woman who deliberately drew attention to every mistake I made and spread rumours in an attempt to undermine confidence in my character. While a difficult experience it taught me a lot about the lengths some people will go to position themselves above others. The honest conversations I had with my manager allow the issue to be dealt with.
I also once worked with a senior leader whose preferred political weapon of choice was to undermine confidence and then step in as the -rescuer'. He would tell his target that people had been complaining to him about them. He would then step forward as a mentor to guide them through these -difficult circumstances' – he had falsely created. A cunning and deceitful strategy I saw work for him on many occasions.
Interview by Brooke Hunter