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Career Q&A | By Liz Reyer, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Model professional behavior for smart, but arrogant, co-worker

Q I have a young professional colleague who is hard-working, smart, competent and … arrogant. When bringing her skills to work on a problem, she's hard to beat. But she identifies internal "clients" who don't get it as lazy and rants about how stupid someone is, thereby upsetting the emotional climate of our whole team. I've had to provide followup support when she's dismissed someone's concerns too quickly and they've raised the issue with me. Her supervisor is no help; I could raise the issue up the line from me, but I'd rather deal with her directly. Ideas?

A: Offer her feedback, set limits during her rants, and buffer yourself from her emotions.

Start with looking out for yourself, identifying the ways that you're affected and examining the reasons for your reactions. While she isn't attacking you, it's creating an environment that diminishes your enjoyment in the workplace. It may be the negativity, it may be a sense that she's being unfair; whatever it is, understand your reaction so that it doesn't get the better of you.

Consider other consequences of her behavior in terms of impact on relationships, workplace effectiveness and her own potential career growth. Then try to get deeper into her frame of reference to understand how she sees the world. Think about the sources of her judgmental reaction — not to excuse it, but to be able to provide feedback that may help her move beyond it.

Finally, determine what a successful outcome would look like. Do you aspire to seeing her mature so that this behavior stops, or is your goal simply to remove this source of conflict in your day-to-day life? This will determine the types of steps you'll want to consider.

Timing is everything in dealing with this colleague directly. Talking about the issue outside of the moment can be effective, since emotions wouldn't be as high. If you decide to take this course, think through the message you want to send. Focus on crafting "I" messages, such as, "I feel uncomfortable when … " rather than messages that could be interpreted as attacks, such as "You always … "

Be specific in your feedback, and choose a single point to make, rather than bringing up all issues at once, which could put her on the defensive. Also, anchor your feedback in a tone of respect, offering it as a way that she could continue to build on her strengths.

Once you've figured out your messages, be sure to ask permission to give feedback. And, if she says she's not interested, respect that. She may come back later when she's prepared. However, if you offer it without consent, it's likely to be received poorly.

When she goes off about a colleague, you don't have to sit quietly. Develop a repertoire of responses to cut off unproductive rants. Ask her to focus on solutions, do a humorous "time out," defend the colleagues, probe to understand the underlying issues, or simply step away to send a message that this isn't acceptable behavior.

Model and reinforce professionalism, and you'll help this talented colleague gain the emotional intelligence she needs.

Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Her company, Reyer Coaching & Consulting, offers services for organizations of all sizes.

Model professional behavior for smart, but arrogant, co-worker 08/31/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 31, 2011 4:30am]
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