Regardless of the field we’re in, there will always be heated situations that tend to make us lose our temper and completely get out of the “professional mode”. It can be our boss or supervisor that is a little bit difficult to deal with, or maybe we’re in charge of a team and one of our subordinates has this unique personality trait that can make things uncomfortable. Since we cannot escape these situations, we’d better learn to handle them.
Today, Mark Oakeson jumps back on the show to discuss some tips and tools we can use to navigate through situations that have already gotten emotionally charged. As two practicing engineers with significant field experience, they have personally seen from a distance as well as participated in such heated conflicts. In today’s episode, they share their experiences, mistakes, and lessons that will definitely help you out whenever faced with such situations.
As Stephen Covey mentions, “seek first to understand, then to be understood”. Isaac and Mark start with this incredibly put principle, but they go even further. They touch on how owning your mistakes can help you build relationships and get respect from others, as well as what to do when your personality and your manager’s simply don’t mix. Sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, keeping butting heads may not be the best approach.
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Transcript of Show
You can download our show notes summary here or get our transcript of the show below!
Isaac Oakeson: Hey, what's going on, everybody? I got Mark with me. Mark, what's going on?
Mark Oakeson: Hey! Just, you know, jumping on with you again. Always enjoy this. Always a good time.
Isaac Oakeson: I agree. It's always a good time. So today, I want to talk about challenging personalities. There's always someone at work.
Mark Oakeson: There's always somebody at work. Yep.
Isaac Oakeson: And I guess it doesn't have to be at work necessarily. It could be, you know, other customers you're dealing.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. It's just the people that you work with. Sometimes it could be a boss, you know? Maybe it's one of your subordinates. Maybe you're the head of a team or something and you have somebody on your team that's a little difficult to work with. But I think those kind of things get escalated becauseit's your work, right? That's your livelihood. You're trying to do a good job and there's people that might be in your way, and they have difficult personalities to deal with. How do you handle that?
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. So, I will share this. You know, you have to be careful what you share now because we're talking about work and we still work.
Mark Oakeson: That's true. Gotta be careful.
Isaac Oakeson: When I was first a transmission intern, I remember I specifically worked with this general foreman, and I think he was pretty new too. But I get out there on the job and he was just real quick to tear me a new one. And I learned over time that, some people, that's just, at least for him, that's just how they communicate sometimes. And once they get to know you, because there's always friction between like engineering and guys in the field that are actually building the stuff. Sometimes there's friction there.
Mark Oakeson: There's always friction there.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. So maybe you got some difficult personality things going and brewing there already. And then you guys have to talk about the actual project and that could be a challenge too. Usually after they get warmed up to you, you can figure things out together. And if you appreciate listening to them, then that go a lot further than just telling them to screw it.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. And you're describing most superintendents, Isaac, that I have been --
Isaac Oakeson: Oh!
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. Because they're dealing with a tough situation. They're trying to build a job and they're trying to hit costs, right? That were basically imposed on them from some estimate that some guy in an office, an estimator, put together, right? And so they're getting pressured that way. And then on top of that, they've got pressured to hit a schedule. They've got to deliver what they're building at a certain time. So they've got that pressure and then they're managing all the personnel that report to him. And then on top of that, sometimes they're working for, you know, another -- Maybe they're a subcontractor and there's another general contractor above them. But, even if they're the general contractor, there's the owner that's above them that's giving them pressure. So, they get squoze from all ends. And so they get a little rough sometimes because of that pressure.
Isaac Oakeson: So maybe we can discuss some tips in order to diffuse the situation. Could be a supervisor, could be a coworker, could be the GF, or whoever you're working out in the field. So you know, I think the first thing that I learned is definitely to listen to them, to listen to that person. They obviously have something to say. If something's already emotionally charged, or there was a mistake made out in the field or something it's easy to match that escalation. But I think if you can take a step back and realize you're just trying to solve a problem here together, it's helpful to listen. Maybe that should be the most important skill. I don't know.
Mark Oakeson: No, that's really important. Even if that person is already amped up and they're already really emotional and they're screaming you can listen calmly and thenyou're still trying to understand them. Obviously, it's easier to do that the more you know somebody and the longer you've worked with them, and you can understand, maybe, what's ticked them off and what's triggered their emotional response that they're going through. But yeah. Even though they may be screaming, listen to them until they feel acknowledged or they feel like you understand them.
Isaac Oakeson: What if you come into a situation like that and you just got a smirk on your face and you're smiling and you're kind of --
Mark Oakeson: A little disrespectful?
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. What's that like? How's that go down?
Mark Oakeson: Yeah, that doesn't go down. If that person screaming senses that there's a little bit of air of disrespect there, or if you're losing eye contact or you're looking at your phone or doing something else that communicates that body language that you're not interested in what they're saying, it'll just escalate it. Right?
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. I think it shows that you're not respectful of this person if you're laughing at them or if you're treating it like maybe you know more in the situation than they they know. That's not going to go well.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. And that might be like an instinctive reaction is to laugh, because you're maybe trying to diffuse the tension, I guess. But that's usually not a good idea if emotions have heightened to those levels, you know?
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. So I think probably don't come into it that way. You should probably come in trying to stay calm. And it's going to take a real effort, I think, to probably stay calm. But if you can remove yourself a little bit from the situation, take a breatherand try to stay calm. I think that's going to be -- Stay calm, listen to the person that's going to help a lot.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. Sometimes that's tough. I've been involved in situations where the person that's mad, you don't feel like they're justified in being mad and feeling that way. Because maybe it's a recurring thing. The same problems keep recurring over and over again, and you've kind of had enough of what's been happening. So, you know, you don't want to stay calm. You want to like scream and tell them how incompetent they are, whatever the situation is. Butit's hard to stay calm when things have escalated, when you don't feel that the person that's angry is justified, and even feeling that way. So sometimes it's hard, but that needs to be the way that you approach things. You gotta stay calm.
Isaac Oakeson: I think those are good points. I think, also, we don't want to, like, act defensively and I think we're, you know, describing situations that are probably really extreme. But I think it's also helpful because I'm sure every engineer will probably have an experience with somebody, or either you've made a mistake or something on the job just went wrong, and things do escalate.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah, because I guarantee. If you're an engineer, if you're a design engineer of any kind you're going to be probably put on the spot at some point in your career having designed something that maybe isn't working, it's not fitting together, you know, or it's costing the contractor more money than he anticipated, and you'll be on the hot seat.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. And I don't know if engineers -- Like, I think when I got out of school, I don't think you're really taught this very well. But, you know, at every point in a design, the rubber meets the road and there will be an interface point where you are the guy.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. It's all nice when you've got your design, andyou know, if you're a structural engineer, then you've got your BIM model and everything works great and fits together in theory. And then out in the field, when it's actually getting executed, sometimes things don't work or you realize that you'veoverlooked something. Something doesn't fit. We have incidences like thatall the time in my line of work.
Isaac Oakeson: I think another tip too is don't demand people's compliance. Like, don't demand that they do things, you know? This all kind of rolls up to listening, which is probably why it's probably the number one thing we're talking about. But if you're demanding compliance on certain things, even if, I think, you may be above them in your title or rank, it's not going to go well for you.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. Yeah. And let's talk about not judging somebody too, which can be hard to do. Especially if you've got a long track record with them, right Isaac? Like, you gotta try to put yourself in the other person's shoes. And I like to do that with my superintendents because I encounter a lot of heated situations. And so that's the first thing I try to do is understand where that superintendent's coming from, because like I say, he's under a lot of pressure. And so, if you can understand what has got him riled up -- He's trying to, you know, make a poor and everything and anything that could go wrong is going wrong, and he's just frustrated because he's under so much pressure. Reflecting, you know, respect and dignity and understanding towards him can diffuse a lot of tension. He understands that you understand where they're coming from. It really helps diffuse the tension.
Isaac Oakeson: This is probably also a marriage tip, but I think it helps when you say "I'm sorry", or you know, "I made a mistake". That also goes a long way. So, little marriage tip for you too out there.
Mark Oakeson: Well, that helps garner respect too. I'm always been a big advocate of admitting your mistakes and owning what you've done. If it's your fault, then admit it. "I'm Sorry, man. Let's figure out how to fix this".
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah, I totally agree. Any other tips to diffuse a situation?
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. Just try to understand that -- Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand their position. If you can pull that off then, that is huge in going towards diffusing the situation. Because once you understand you have, you know, some empathy for that person and what they're going through, then it's just a lot easier to get to a solution and figure out the best way to go forward.
Isaac Oakeson: And going back to judging, I'm thinkinga lot of times -- Like, I remember I had a manager one time and you just never know if they just woke up on the wrong side of the bed or what's going on in their home life or, you know, what their drive like was to work. If they got flipped off and somebody cut in front of them. And then they get to work and they deal with all the pressure there too. And, you know, the stress can be build up. So it is helpful not to judge. And it's also helpful -- Like, sometimes to find the hidden meaning or to read between the lines of really what's going on in this person's life of why they have a difficult personality or even a situation.
Mark Oakeson: Sure, sure. I think if your attitude is "I'm going to try and understand that person before I try to make myself understood" I think that's the way to go. Come in with that attitude, "Okay. Even though maybe I'm mad at this guy, or I don't agree with what's going on, I'm going to try to understand his point of view, his perspective, or her perspective, before I try to communicate my perspective or my reasons for doing what I'm doing". That always goes a long way.
Isaac Oakeson: So I'm just thinking out loud here, but a lot of times difficulties in personality they -- I have heard, and I maybe have seen some stats on this. I don't know. But typically, I have heard that the biggest reason why people leave a position in a workplace is because they just do not get along with the manager. I mean, any advice, tips, ways to handle that? I mean, it could fall in the same kind of things, but what if the personalities there just do not mix?
Mark Oakeson: Well, sometimes that happens. You know, my opinion on that is, if you're not getting along with somebody, it's because you don't know them, you don't have an appreciation. Maybe you don't understand their background, where they're coming from, what motivates them. You just don't have, I guess, a deep enough relationship, or working relationship, with them to really understand what drives them, what motivates them, and maybe how you fit into that scenario. Because every manager has a set of goals and he has a set of priorities, and, you know, if you're working for him, then you've got to fit into those priorities and those goals that he's got. And so, you know, trying to understand where he comes from and his background, and try to gain an appreciation for that manager, he or she that you're not getting along with is really key. But I mean, I'd understand that there's certain situations that you just can't. There's just no way to get --
Isaac Oakeson: Just not working.
Mark Oakeson: It's just not working. And maybe their background is just so foreign to you that you just can't understand anything that's coming out of this guy or this lady that's managing you. You know, what their goals are or anything else. You just can't get there. I can see that happening too. But I don't know. If you're butting heads with the manager and you're not getting along, you know, I think it's just because maybe you just don't understand what makes them tick, you know? What are their goals? What do they want out of this organization?
Isaac Oakeson: And I think at the end of the day, you can trust your instincts on things like that. Like, if that's not working out, you know, it's probably a good indicator that it didn't work for other engineers too, usually.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. Well, and I've seen managers in the organizations that I worked for that tend to alienate everybody, you know? And they go through lots of people that have gone into their team organization and tried to get along with them, and then they get alienated. And then, "Okay. Here comes the next guy". Bam! He gets alienated and they have an argument and split up. So I can see that sometimes it just -- I don't know. Sometimes it just doesn't work sometimes.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. So just trust your instincts on those kinds of scenarios. Obviously I don't think one type of response fits all situations. So, you know, we're covering a lot of stuff between diffusing a bigger argument to personality issues with your manager which can be an issue. So anyway, those are all good things. I think at the end of the day, though, if you've come out of an argument andyou've done your best to diffusethe anger that's there, you came out not looking like a jerk, and that you've made your best effort to solve the problem, I think you can give yourself a pat on the back and giving yourself kudos for giventhe best shot of trying to do that.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. And it doesn't always work, but if you come in with these attitudes that we're talking about: staying calm and trying to understand that person being your first motivation, you know, understand their point of view you're going to have a lot more success doing that than you won't. Your probability for success will be pretty high.
Isaac Oakeson: Well, good deal. Anything else you want to hit on about challenging personalities?
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. It's just that conflicts are going to arise and you gotta learn how to deal with it. And I think just developing understanding of those people that you work with, where they come from, what motivates them, what values they hold dear, all of those things are important. You can't just be a worker that just -- And some of us, you know, that are a little more introverted, or not maybe an extroverted type personality, that doesn't want to maybe interface with people. And I would say, you know, a lot ofengineers would probably fall in some of these categories or maybe a little more introverted and they don't want to interface with a lot of people. But man, it just doesn't matter what part of the business you're in. You gotta interface with people and you gotta develop relationships with people. And it's really all about relationships. And once -- Some of the relationships, some of the best relationships I have in the industry that I'm in are because we've had big, difficult problems that have gotten heated and we've had arguments, but we've worked through them. And now we're like, you know, best friends after it's all said and done. And then when we're involved again in another project and a problem comes up, it's way easier to deal with that person againbecause we've already -- I don't known. We've already had our --
Isaac Oakeson: You've hashed it out.
Mark Oakeson: We've hashed it out. We've already fought out, and they know me and I know them. And we just come from a point of understanding and it's a lot easier. But you're always going to have a better chance of winning if you're not, you know, acting defensively, you're listening, and you're seeking to understand that person before you try to be understood yourself.
Isaac Oakeson: Hey, that sounds like the book Seven Habits.
Mark Oakeson: Oh yeah. That's kind of a Stephen Covey kind of a thing.
Isaac Oakeson: We'll link it in the show notes.
Mark Oakeson: That's good.
Isaac Oakeson: Go read it everybody.
Mark Oakeson: It's good stuff.
Isaac Oakeson: Well, cool. Hopefully these tips and tools will help you. If you have to diffuse a situation at work, or you are dealing with a difficult personality or a challenging personality hopefully these tips and tools and resources will help you as well. So Mark, thanks for jumping on. It's always fun to do this.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. Thanks for inviting me again. Good times.
Isaac Oakeson: All right. We'll have a good one. See you.
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