How to Work with Imperfect People

Posted on: February 22, 2018

 “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”


Like most people, I spent my entire career working for and with other people. As I retired and left corporate America, it occurred to me that what I would miss most and least about the past 50 years of my working life was one and the same: people.


Russ*, like me, worked in the sales department for an international importer.  He appeared well liked by everyone in our department.  I liked Russ.


Unfortunately, he didn’t like me.


At times, he would treat me cordially and cooperatively, and at other times, asking him a simple question would result in conflict.  Approaching him for information became a game of tiptoeing across eggshells without breaking one. Since there was absolutely nothing I could pinpoint that had caused a rift between us, I was forced to conclude that I was that “one in every four people you meet that you won’t like” person for this man.  I was happy when he left the company for another opportunity.


In your career, you’ll encounter someone that just rubs you the wrong way.  You’re going to encounter egomaniacs, gossipers, complainers, manipulators, slackers, divas, enviers, finger pointers, know-it-alls … and the list goes on.  The point is─ it’s inescapable.


We all come into life a “Tabula rasa “ or “clean slate” and are molded into the adult person we become based on personality and life experiences. It’s our uniqueness and experiences that shape how well or how poorly we develop relationships and interact with other people.


It’s virtually impossible to know what will stir up old feelings of resentment, self-doubt and deep-seated anger in another person, or what old wounds someone will stir up in you.


It’s hard enough to work with someone you don’t like.  Try working with someone who doesn’t like you.


When you work with people you like and who like you, you’ll be more productive and happier in your job.  If you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t like you, they’ll find ways to sabotage your success, even if it’s merely bringing down your morale.


We don’t all have to like each other, but we do have to all get along.  Conflict is counter-productive and costly.  It’s in everyone’s best interest to create an environment that promotes cooperation and goodwill among coworkers, regardless of title or status in the organization.


If you’re a hiring manager, selecting the right employee becomes more than just identifying a particular skill or ability.


A quick exercise I used to make this point when training owners and managers was to have them list all the attributes of their best workers.  Each time, we’d fill up several sheets of easel paper with attributes called out randomly by participants like, honesty, trust worthy, confident, professional, competent, cooperative, team player, etc.  Then, we’d mark next to each asset recorded if the attribute was a skill or an attitude.  Without fail, the majority of the traits the group identified that that made someone a great worker were attitudes … hard to measure, but essential to performance.


An easy way to determine the traits and attitudes necessary to do a job is to switch your focus from why you hire to why you fire someone from a role.

I know it sounds crazy, but consider that people don’t lose their jobs because of the experience and skills listed on their resume.  They lose their jobs because of behavioral patterns that are inconsistent with working synergistically and productively.


If you’re a new employee trying to fit into an established work group, fitting in becomes more than just doing what’s expected productively.


In order to work well with many different work groups, you’re going to have to be the one that adapts quickly to other personality types.  It’s a given that you aren’t going to like everyone you meet, but it will be easier to adapt your own style with that of others if you understand each company’s culture beforehand.  It’s imperative that you learn all you can about the culture and the people of each company you work for.


Several years ago, a hiring manager spent the better part of an hour sharing his frustration with me in being able to find the right person to join his customer service group.  He was clearly pointing the finger at the many staffing services that had sent a worker to him for the role and felt the problem was simply that no one had capable workers.


When asked some of basic questions about his culture and the people in it, we both discovered that the problem wasn’t with the new hires at all, but rather, the attitude of his existing team about accepting a new hire into their established work group.  Clearly, this group’s unspoken mantra for every new hire was, “We Don’t Want You … Please Leave”.   This manager faced the hard reality that his own staff members were sabotaging every new hire that walked through his door.


If you work on a contract basis, your ability to adapt to other people becomes as much of an asset as having the skill set required to perform the job.  The more adaptable you can become, the more success you’re going to have since you will be immersed into many different work groups and have to deal with way more people than the Average Joe that works full time with one company his entire career.


Can’t we just all get along?  Yes, yes we can … but the magic lies in believing that “we can disagree without being disagreeable”.

By:  Linda Zumstein