How do you deal with coworkers with moods and personalities that shift

dramatically from day-to-day? Barnard from London, England, for example, wrote:

“My coworker Barbara is a genuine Jekyll and Hyde. We have to work together on a number of projects, and usually we get along famously. But once a week or so, we’ll sit down for our morning status meeting to discuss action plans, and it’s like I have a whole different person sitting in front of me. She’s argumentative, contrary, and talks about how we’re all on the wrong track. She trashes any idea that I or anyone else might have. I was thinking of making up signs for her to wear to identify if it was the good Barbara or the bad Barbara showing up to the office that day, but then I thought that might be counterproductive…”

It’s always hard to know for sure what influences other peoples’ behaviors. One thing we do know is that everyone has triggers and will respond in different ways when our buttons are pushed. (See the chapters on Hot Buttons and Cold Buttons). Chances are you can’t fix the underlying cause of someone’s personality shifts, but there are some strategies you can use to better deal with them.

First, you should always begin with a little preventative medicine. Keep extensive notes during meetings. Document everything. Some people find it helpful to use tape recorders in the middle of a table to record meetings. This helps everyone with a point of reference when things get forgotten, or go sideways. Then, at the end of every meeting, confirm your perception of where things stand. Ask questions to ensure that the two of you are, at least for the moment, on the same page. This prepares you for dealing with this individual when they move to the Dark Side.

When the evil Barbara shows up, resist the temptation to get defensive or to tell Barbara exactly how badly she’s behaving. Instead, control the conversation by asking questions. Try playing the “I’m confused” card. e.g.: “Oh, I’m sorry Barbara, I’m confused. I understood from the last time we got together that this is what we were going to do. What have I missed?” If she denies that is what happened, refer back to your notes or to the tape (if she denies what’s on the tape, she has a future in politics). At the end of this meeting, when you go to confirm things, you can now be a little more pointed with your confirmation by saying something like, “I just want to make sure I have this straight – I don’t want to have another miscommunication like we did today.”

If this approach doesn’t work, you may have to become a little more direct. Have a discussion in a private place (with the Good Barbara, not the Evil Barbara), and tell her that you are unsure about how to work with her. Make sure, however, that you emphasize the positives about your working relationship, and how important it is to you. Hopefully, if she appreciates the relationship as much as you do, she will be more careful in the future.

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