Let’s be honest: some people are more difficult to work with than others. There are weird people; angry, irritable colleagues; people with a lousy work ethic; and people we just don’t understand. And appreciating these individuals can be even more challenging.
Let me share a few tips on communicating appreciation to a “difficult” colleague:
- Don’t try to fake it. Whatever you do, don’t try to “act like” you appreciate someone if you really don’t. Most people have a very sensitive “radar” when they believe others aren’t being genuine. You risk undermining any trust you may have with your colleague if they don’t think what you are saying or doing is authentic.
- Do some self-reflection. Think about some potential reasons why you have a hard time appreciating this colleague.
- What about them don’t you like? What do they do that irritates you? If your issue with them is more of a personality or lifestyle difference, back up a step and ask, “Are they getting the job done in a satisfactory manner?” If the answer is yes, then you can genuinely express appreciation for them for their work even though you may be irritated by other issues.
- Do you have realistic expectations of that person, or do you expect more than they are capable of doing? It’s possible you don’t have a good understanding of their job responsibilities. Ask about the time required to do the task and/or what else is currently on their plate to accomplish. You might be able to cut them some slack and view them in a whole new light.
- Have you checked into the reason that may be behind why they are not performing their job duties up to standards? They may not have the sufficient materials, equipment or proper training. They may be experiencing a personal problem that may be tapping all of their reserves and may be just getting by. They may have a physical problem such as chronic pain or a new medication that is presenting challenges in the workplace that may not be readily apparent. There may be some accommodations that can be made, such as working remotely or upgrading their equipment that could be the boost they need.
- Consider characteristics not directly related to work performance. The core component that leads to appreciation is valuing something about the other person. Sometimes, we can value characteristics that aren’t necessarily “productive” but helpful (having a positive, cheerful demeanor; staying calm in stressful situations). Additionally, there are aspects of a person’s life outside of work that we may value — having the self-discipline to train for a half-marathon; being single parent who is deeply committed to their children. Call attention to these characteristics as a start.
- Get to know them a little bit better. Valuing someone is difficult when you don’t really know much about him or her. Often, finding out something about their personal history enables you to understand them more. And getting to know a bit more about their hobbies and life outside of work can lead to some areas of connection.
Interestingly, most of us have different people who are challenging for each of us. (That is, Stephanie might really grate your nerves while she and I get along fine, but Kurt irritates me by just walking in the room while he creates no struggles for you). So, the issue is really an interaction effect rather than the fact that they are a terrible person.
Even though some people are ogres, in reality, most aren’t. And although you may have a colleague that rubs you the wrong way, resist putting them in the “Don’t Appreciate Them” basket — where the chances are high that you won’t ever say anything positive to them.
Try the tips above and see if you can’t find something you can appreciate them for. (Remember: you may be the “difficult to appreciate” colleague for some of your colleagues!)