By | Shital Kakkar Mehra | Executive Presence Coach for CEOs I Business Communication Expert I Best-selling Author I Co-Founder Katalyst, NGO
How can I deal with a colleague’s erratic moods?
Q. I would like to know how to deal with an unpredictable colleague. The said colleague is communicative but suddenly she builds a wall of Jericho around her. It becomes difficult to gauge her erratic behaviour. This is more challenging while communicating via text messages during the pandemic. — Calm Fellow Worker
Challenging relationships at work have always existed as offices were built on the principle that people with different personalities should work together ‘harmoniously’ to achieve the company’s goals. Today, when you layer these existing challenges with the new ones created by the pandemic, workplace relationships have become even tougher. As we continue to work from home and have no idea when we will return to our ‘normal’ office, there are no boundaries left between our personal and professional life. All our interactions with colleagues and family members have been reduced to a screen and this forced isolation has changed our behaviour in different ways. Psychologists are warning us about escalating mental health issues. It is safe to believe that people are going through a lot and their behaviour is a direct reflection of their mental state.
A few tips for handling your fellow worker’s unpredictable behaviour:
It’s not you: Inconsistent behaviour is often a reflection of a person’s current mental state, serving as a quick indicator of what is really going on in their life. In fact, it may be safe to assume that her mood swings have nothing to do with you or your work interactions.
Continue to remain calm: Focus on your job and your deliverables, not allowing her behaviour to ‘trigger’ you. Instead, work towards delivering better results and maintaining healthy relationships with all your stakeholders. Be consistent in your interactions, display maturity when communicating with her, keeping all conversations crisp and within work-related topics.
Look for patterns: Sit back, don your thinking hat and try to analyse her inconsistent behaviour. What is the possible cause for these mood swings? Could it be a personal or a professional problem which leads to this clam up? Does the mention of a work project or a colleague trigger her to suddenly stop the communication channel? Gather data points during your interactions with her and see if you are able to spot a pattern.
Build bridges: If you had built a strong in-person relationship with her pre-pandemic, it’s worth scheduling a Zoom coffee to chat about non-work related issues. By creating this comfort zone, you allow her to display vulnerability and open up. In case she speaks about a problem, offer support by being an active listener. Remember, she is not looking for advice, unless she specifically asks you for it. Also, don’t suggest change as she may not take your views positively.
Enhance engagement: As emails and text messages lack both vocal and non-verbal signals, they make it tougher to understand human behaviour. To counter this, make an effort to engage with her on a video-chat where you can gauge her mood/ body language while she gets a better sense of your intent to understand her.
Use this as an opportunity to further polish your ‘Executive Maturity’, a critical leadership skill which displays your ability to maintain sharp focus on the task at hand, while remaining calm.