SLA, 7/16: Make the Most of a Difficult Situation: Solutions to Get You Through

Make the Most of a Difficult Situation: Solutions to Get You Through

Jill Hurst-Wahl
co-author of The Information and Knowledge Professionals Career Handbook (among other activities)

Jill outlined ten approaches to handling difficult situations, then we discussed two sample scenarios and some situations audience members broached.

Jill says she’s stayed in difficult positions because she kept waiting for people to change.

Is there a way a difficult situation will pay off for us? Maybe it’s in what we learn about ourselves or learn about the situation. Or perhaps it’s in the connections we make in light of the difficult situations.

Jill asked us to define what a difficult situation is:
Unethical activities
Dysfunctional organization (every organization is like a family: there will be some dysfunction)
Change, whether positive or negative
Insecure coworkers
Doing more with less, budget cuts
Unexpected feedback
Poor communication
Personality clashes
Polarized groups, groups not able to work together well
Feeling trapped
Being pigeonholed
Breaking down boundaries

Jill’s 4 overarching things:
Don’t like it
Don’t know how to handle it
See limited options

We often think of difficult situations being associated with a person, but many times, it’s an organizational issue

One example is someone with an unpleasant odor

Conference website and slideshare have handouts:…

learn about the situation: get out of your space, walk around the building, hide in the bathroom on a different floor, stand back, drop assumptions
think about the external environment: why is the boss suddenly being difficult (bad marriage, kid problems, boss problems)
brainstorm/mindstorm: if you can’t talk with someone else, at least sit with yourself and some paper to think things over
pull together a team: who can you talk to who might give you a different perspective or options, maybe someone who knows something about your organization can give you a different point of view, by talking through the situation, you might hear it differently
build support/find a mentor: get help exiting the situation, who can help you with that?, be patient about the exit: it took Jill a year to leave the 4-year bad situation: got her ducks in a row, started a journal to outline her ideas and figure out what to do next
learn how to listen to what is said and not said: what kind of words and language are they using?
talk to the person causing the angst
if it’s harassment, involve human resources: harassment is one time when you shouldn’t just sit down and take what’s happening; however, bullying is not illegal in the workplace (Jill says in one of her difficult situations, going to HR would not have worked because of the work environment. When she left that organization, many other people left, too.) HR protects the organization, isn’t necessarily workers’ friends. Find the lay of the land before going to HR.
if you need to leave, have a strategy: network with people, row your ducks, update your resume, get on LinkedIn or other online communities, check out your finances, the TRAK staffing lady recommends considering exit strategies a long time before the situation becomes a crisis or emergency, what can I do differently in the organization,
Question from the audience: how can you gauge what things are like in a different organization to know whether working there won’t just lead to the same problems? Jill suggests talking to insiders, when you’re interviewing, look around: do you notice things that seem odd or out of place or might indicate certain problems? and have company reviews
remember the positives: you’ll be so pissed off at the situation, you’ll forget about the good things: the people you’ve met, the experience, your rolodex, Jill left her role with good contacts and tech knowledge she wouldn’t have gained elsewhere;
trust your gut: if your gut says “I just have to leave” and you mean it, handle the consequences

situation 1: The company reorganizes and you’re now under a manager who doesn’t value what you do. What do you do?
find out what the manager values and try to find a connection between what you do and what the manager values
show the manager your value, like cost reduction
try for a personal connection: if they appreciate you as a person, maybe they can see your value
find advocates who can talk to your new manager, especially someone who is a hierarchical peer or someone at a higher level
present yourself as a professional, act as if you’re on equal footing
self-promote: share positive comments from others (but be ware of your manager being upset by them: jealousy, control issues, etc. Talk to your manager: what’s your problem with these positive comments? They reflect positively on you and your leadership as much as they’re compliments about my work.)
consult a lawyer: you might not realize what’s happening is illegal, especially because different states have different laws protecting lawyers; but be careful what you say/how you handle the situation because you want to be as professional as possible -> you have no idea what the consequences of your action might be, if you’ll be branded professionally as being litigious, positive references are good ones,

Situation 2: your organization shifts service models and now requires someone to be on call 24/7.
qualify expectations
how frequently would it be happening
what’s the impact
how does the organization support that, what resources are available
what does “on call” really mean? what does “24/7” really mean?
what expanded benefits go along with this change: working for 7 days, off for 7 days
when talking to staff, emphasize the positives, try to get their buy in, address their concerns, compensation/benefits, maybe get HR or your boss to go with you to inform your staff, figure out the best approach to inform the staff–many will get stuck on being on call 24/7 and not hear anything else you say, be clear about details, let the staff figure out how to do coverage and anything else the staff as a group can decide: don’t mandate unless it’s absolutely necessary
train people
be understanding

sample scenario: lady presents ideas: boss says “No!”, but coworker suggests same thing and boss says “Yes!”

audience member says “are you sure it’s that your boss doesn’t want you to get distracted from the things you do well?”
communication style difference?
memory problems?
is the boss someone who needs to “hear things twice” before making a solid decision?

what do you do when you don’t match the corporate style? depends on what you want, but if you can modify yourself slightly to fit in and that works for you, go ahead. Also, it shows others how serious you are about the job.
An audience member suggests remembering that you don’t necessarily need to be your whole self at work, that you can leave parts of yourself out and still be fulfilled. It’s up to you and what you want.

rejecting people because of style might be unconscious

sample scenario: my boss and coworkers call me “Barbie”
talk to HR
suggest a team building exercise to open the door to a larger conversation
check out the larger campus dress code

Several people referenced Malcolm Gladwell’s book blink.

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