In summary, if you build relationships with bad communicators, the ‘prickly’ folk, or people that you don’t like very much, not only will you find that they might be okay after all, but you might just tap into a great resource.
Okay, what am I getting at? Maybe you are 100% professional, never have favourites and split your time appropriately for the size and nature of the task…. No?
At work it really comes down to outcomes, it’s what we are paid for. The outcome you want and the outcome you get from work requests often vary from person to person and day to day. So, take a scenario where you are at work, you have two people you need to get to do something for you. More often than not, if you have a good relationship with a person, you might call them, or if you are in the same building, perhaps you will find them, have a coffee with them, maybe even catch up on the week’s gossip.
The other guy or gal, you don’t get on with so well. They are really good at what they do, but they are abrasive to talk to, deliver work in exactly the way you asked, even though if they had used their initiative it could have been so much better, or sometimes it’s not what you asked for at all. Knowing this, you decide an Email will suffice with a list of requirements and hope that you don’t have to do too much re-work when it gets to you.
So why are these folk so awkward?
In my experience, the people who are good at building relationships tend to do well. The people who are poor at building relationships also tend to be the people that see these good relationships as “politics”, and often when it comes to promotion, “Favouritism”. In addition to this, the phrase “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is used very negatively. These are the people that can be abrasive, rude or even sarcastic, they receive Emails containing complex work requests instead of invites for coffee. They get frustrated when what they deliver is exactly what the person needs or asked for, but the person doesn't use it. I know this feeling well, as during my 20’s, I was one of these people, so speak from first-hand experience of the frustration of handing over a piece of work that I know to be extremely useful, then that work, and me, would subsequently be ignored. So in answer to the question ‘why are these folk so awkward?’ Simple, they believe they are good and are frustrated that nobody seems to see it, awkwardness is their way of acting out and make people work for their product.
So why bother with the prickly folk at all? If they don’t want to play ball – leave them to it, I will get it done elsewhere? That’s perfectly fine, but sometimes these people are really good at what they do, they also have probably been in the same role for a very long time too so have a lot of experience. Also, they probably have no clue that their interpersonal skills have such an impact on their work and career, they also don’t realise that they are treated the way they are treated because of their behaviour, not their work (The 20’s me really did think that if I kept being sarcastic about other people’s errors that they will do something about it! – I was being helpful… In a light hearted way… wasn't I?)
So building a relationship can work wonders, I'm not suggesting taking them out for a meal and a movie, but certainly wander to their desk or at least call them. More importantly ask them for their opinion, try your best to wade through any negativity that may be there and understand where they are coming from. They are probably just not articulating it very well. Think of this as sifting through the grit to find gold. Most importantly, give clear feedback on what was good at first until you've built up a good enough relationship to criticise. Most of the prickly folk out there are probably not getting regular feedback from their managers (If they were their prickly behaviour would have been handled).
Also, don’t expect miracles, first few times you do this, what you get might not be any better, but over time as you come to understand each other it will get more like your other, good relationships. At the very least you will have someone else to go for coffee with.
Bonus Tip for the ‘Prickly folk’
If you are reading this and thinking, “Er… these ‘prickly folk’ sound a lot like me…” there is nothing wrong with getting an Email from a person you have a poor relationship and thinking, “This is a dumb, stupid request, they've had this three times and don’t do anything with it”, but saying that, or escalating to your manager isn't going to help you or the business. Maybe try picking up the phone and saying, “Hi, I'm hoping you can help. I've read your Email, and just wanted to check a couple of things, have you got a minute to chat?”. This is the tough part – listen to them, understand where they are coming from and be critical of your work and understand why it’s not meeting their requirements. At no point do you say, “But we gave you that last week”. It is okay to say, “Okay, I think we can tweak a few things we've already done for you and get that sorted out”. Far better for both of you, as you don’t look like an unhelpful jobs-worth who can’t work with people, and they don’t feel stupid, so it’s great for everyone! (Note; If you make people feel stupid, it doesn't benefit you, in fact, they will quickly learn to work around you and in some cases, they may even seek revenge – and if they have better relationships than you, they will almost certainly win).
Sound a bit too much to handle? Just try using the phone or speaking in person and not blaming anybody for anything. Just talk about the work and what needs to change and don’t take it personally, and if you can give anyone a heads up that they have work or trouble coming their way, do so – they might remember it and even do the same for you.