How to Be Assertive with Difficult Coworkers

Question From a Reader…

“I work with a person who is very abrasive and refuses to return telephone calls and emails. My job is providing technical support to an area of which they manage. With no feedback and interaction my job becomes very difficult. How would you propose handling this type of personality?”

My Response…

The problem behavior is that he is not communicating with you and you therefore don’t have the information you need to do your job. Your goal is to get this communication happening, preferably respectful communication.

The easiest way of making his behavior become a problem for him would be to inform him that you have to temporarily suspend technical support until a satisfactory line of communication can be established.

Explain what you need (for example, regular reporting to learn of any technical issues, respectful collaboration when solutions are being tested, answers to questions, etc.)

If you don’t get a response, just wait for the next technical problem to arise and instead of fixing it, direct anyone concerned to that manager. Also, email him again to say that you are available to resolve the communication issue first before the technical problem can be addressed.

I realize you may need a dose of courage to do this.

For this you can use the Wellspring Method that I developed in my practice for dealing with difficult people and stressful situations like this.

You may need to get your supervisor on board with this idea first. Do that if you need to. Point out that you are purposely allowing a problem to develop in order to achieve an essential line of communication that is needed in order for your department to do its job.

I think you should hold out for a face to face meeting with the manager in question and don’t give in until you are happy with the plan that the two of you put into place along with the appropriate collaborative attitude you are looking for.

It may be that this manager is simply too busy and overloaded with other responsibilities. You could then suggest that he delegate an appropriate person to communicate with you around the technical stuff.

It would probably be wise to mentally rehearse this whole scenario a few times with the Wellspring Method in order to work out in your mind how you are going to handle things and gain the assertiveness skills and confidence you need for it.

If the line of communication breaks down again, provide a warning that service is about to cease again and ask for another meeting to create a BETTER plan because the last one didn’t work well enough.

Live Powerfully!
Dr Mark

Mark Lauderdale MD FRCPC
Psychiatrist and Personal Effectiveness Coach

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