Two colleagues work with me in a consulting setup I oversee.
While I know that I share with both of them a warm and affectionate relationship, sometimes I notice, as Amy Gallo in her very riveting book ‘Getting Along – How to Work with Anyone (Even Difficult People)’, under review here, writes, each of us is ‘amygdala hijacked’.
Her interpretation, based on solid academic research, tells us that this ‘happens when our buttons are pushed’ and, sure enough, they are. In situations, when we allow ourselves to rise to such baits, we become ‘reactive’ losing control of both our ability to respond or assess the situation objectively.
Her book comes to us at a time when we are recovering from the debilitating influence of a pandemic that has led to immense social distancing and loss of genuine human face-to-face interaction.
Relationships, particularly in organisations that have suffered the deleterious effect of ‘difficult relationships’, can gain from reading this book. Amy offers a novel way to assess relationships, couching most forms of relating as archetypes.
Eight archetypes she writes about are — The Insecure Boss; The Pessimist; The Victim; The Passive-Aggressive Peer; The know it-all; The Tormentor; The Biased Co-worker; The Political Operator. All these play out in some manner or the other in our lives.
While we may take an outsider’s view of each of these archetypes, the truth is that each of us has and also manifest these types in our relationships both at work and in the relationships we saddle outside work.
Yet, as Gallo seeks to help us, it is at and in our workplace that dysfunctional relationships impair progress not just for us in our roles and also the whole organisation. Therefore, discovering ways to cope, handle and better relationships at work is paramount. I submit that improved work relationships will surely leach into our personal lives life and help us become effective and functional there too.
‘How we think’
Before we dwell on the various types of people we encounter at work, who we may have difficulty working with, it is very important we gain an understanding of ‘how we think’ and our ‘beliefs’ in relation to those we relate with.
In a compelling article, ‘Use of self as an instrument of change’ by Katherine M Curran and others, highlights the need to introspect and recognise, “the level of awareness we have about the impact we make, and our ability to make choices to direct and modify that impact”.
Gallo at the end of her detailed analysis of each archetype and how we can learn to recognise it in others, asks us to examine what are the determinants, the criteria, and the basis on which we slot an individual as displaying one or more of the eight archetypes she writes about.
In offering us both the thesis, that supports and evolves into understanding an archetype, she presents very meaningful counterpoints, much like an anti-thesis, and helps us blend the polarities. We are encouraged to synthesise a path that we can forge, thus giving us scope to look beyond the obvious.
While each of the eight archetypes is well delineated, explained, and given sufficient attention, the singular contribution of her writing and book is helping us ‘face our mirror’.
I am struck by her nudging us to ask ourselves: “If you’re serious about resolving conflicts with a co-worker, it’s essential that you acknowledge your own part in the dynamic?”
She goes on to emphasise: “The tools that I describe in the coming chapters for getting along with a pessimist, a biased colleague, or an insecure boss won’t work unless you recognise that while every battle with a difficult person is different, there is one consistent element across them: you.”
Such honesty from a scholar of repute, that she is, being a contributing editor at Harvard Business Review, without doubt, assures us that we are being offered sage wisdom, distilled after several years of hands-on experience; a ringside understanding that repairing, restoring and enhancing relationships at work is possible and real.
She adds, “Any relationship takes two to tango,” so, “the clearer you can be about your role in the dust-up (even if it’s minor), the clearer a resolution will become.”
‘The passive-aggressive peer’
One significant archetype whose echo is seen in a lot of organisations is ‘the passive-aggressive peer’. While all other archetypes make themselves visible without effort, the passive-aggressive peer is probably one of the most insidious manifestations of a dysfunctional relationship.
The presence of a passive-aggressive peer in a relationship can unobtrusively sabotage all that is happening not merely by not pulling one’s weight but by chipping at the very root of progress.
The passive-aggressive peer, while wearing a veneer of collaboration, can actually cause the death of cooperation by negligence, apathy, and sheer cussedness. This archetype has to be watched carefully and ferreted out before damage is done.
As you progress through the book, an easy read of 256 pages, she fleshes out in considerable detail all possibilities that show up among the eight archetypes she writes about.
And after taking us through the labyrinth and the many traps we may encounter, she provides us with nine principles that we may adopt to ensure both our intent and action to rise above toxic relationships can be achieved. Succinctly, they are:
- Focus on what you can control.
- Remember yours is just one perspective.
- Be aware of your biases.
- Don’t make it ‘me against them.
- Rely on empathy to see things differently.
- Know your goal.
- Avoid gossip.
- Experiment to find what works.
- Be and stay curious.
The last two chapters ‘Approaches that rarely work’ and ‘Taking care’ I think constitute the core of this book.
Amy Gallo has assiduously pursued a path of educating us, yet not in a way that is pontificating and instead as a friend, a co-traveller, walking alongside, with the purest intention of ensuring we recognise and avoid the many pitfalls that lie masked in our journey towards building productive and mutually rewarding relationships.
(The reviewer is a visiting professor at the Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai, and is an organisational and behavioural consultant)
About the book
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press.
Check out the book on Amazon.