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How To Succeed With A Jerk At Work

You know the person. Your hair stands up on end; their words and attitude feel like fingernails on a chalkboard. You feel like they're out to get you. 

Yet you're partnered on a dream project. 

The stakes—and emotions—are high. What to do? 

(Note: this post is most relevant to a third-party relationship, such as a vendor or joint venture with many players. Dealing with a jerk at your own company has similar features but you have more leverage in terms of culture and hiring.)

As a leader, your objective is for the project to succeed. What is your vision for the work ahead of you? The stronger and clearer you communicate that vision, the less drama will slow you and the team down.  

For example, at Shopify, the vision was to increase global economic well-being. It set everyone's sights way beyond the day to day struggles we had in front of us, to a place where we were having a positive influence on the lives of millions of merchants and their customers.  

It inspired me and many others to reach for excellence in everything we did. And a commitment to a shared vision brings people together like nothing else. 

So if you are holding that vision and welcoming everyone into it, you will activate the best part of people, and the likelihood of getting caught up in turf skirmishes / personality conflicts lowers. 

On the flip side, if you give into the temptation to complain then that's the energy you activate in your team. You just shrank the chances for project's success. 

High stakes, remember? 

So how do you get past the fingernails on the chalkboard feeling? Here's the secret: 

They're not doing it wrong. They're doing it perfectly, for them 

That is, they have an iron clad reason to show up the way they do. They—as with each of us—bring their entire personal, professional, cultural, and relational history to their work. When that person meets the moment, they aim for the best possible result based on who they are. 

Seeing their full mix of motivations grants empathy; since we are all made up of a dynamic set of inner and outer influences.  

Your colleague is not being an asshole in their own mind. They're just being themselves, with all the positive and negative consequences that it brings.

That doesn't mean you can't give them feedback or try to create the most positive culture for the project that you can. But if you start out thinking that someone is "doing it wrong" then you'll be blind to your own weaknesses and will come across as tone deaf at best and hypocritical at worst. 

No, it's not natural to think that someone who rubs you the wrong way is doing it perfectly. But nobody said that leadership is natural. It requires you to evolve in the most important ways. And starting by accepting someone's approach as being valid for them, is one of those ways. 

If you want to collaborate on succeeding with challenging colleagues, click the button below to line up a free strategy session.

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