We all have a good cop and bad cop in
us. Learn to deal with the bad cop so it doesn’t ruin
your working relationships.
You are extremely responsible and highly productive. You
have lofty personal standards and never shy away from a
challenge or new opportunity. You are a bit of a perfectionist,
are always accountable for your own actions and don’t
make excuses. You are confident and sure-handed when making
decisions. You are likable, personable and fun. Colleagues
describe you as intelligent, visionary, driven, successful and
inspiring. They count on you to get the job done right and get
it done on time, every time. All great stuff.
The other side of the coin (and there’s always another
side) is not as pretty a picture. Given the right circumstances
or enough stress, you also can be controlling, forcefully
imposing your opinions on others. You may shun collaborative
input, preferring to go it alone. You hold onto plum tasks,
choose not to delegate, and keep information close to the vest.
You can be condescending, egocentric and overly critical of
others. You may inspire fear and hinder productivity and
creativity. All to be expected.
Yes, expected, because every human being has a flipside. We
can at once have both amazingly positive and seriously negative
traits (although, thankfully, few have all of the traits
described in the previous paragraph). Most of us learn to
manage and/or suppress our more negative characteristics so
that our positive side can be recognized and rewarded. But we
also know that no one can wear the white hat all of the
time—most of us have at one time or another reverted to
our basic “bad cop” tendencies.
So what do we do when our own, or our manager’s, coin
lands on the unpleasant side? Hoping that this won’t ever
happen all but guarantees future disillusionment and
disappointment in yourself or others. Instead, accept the
dichotomy and develop coping strategies to turn yourself around
and/or help you cope with others’ temporary personality
glitches. Some suggestions follow.
Anticipate the inevitable.
Knowing that everyone snaps once in awhile allows us to
anticipate, and therefore not be blindsided by, a negative
reaction. If, for example, I know that my manager has been
under a lot of personal stress, has been dealing with a
difficult employee situation and has missed a deadline and
gotten nailed for it, I should be able to anticipate a less
than positive response when I ask to be included on the new
project team. Similarly, if I’m at my wits’ end and
mad at the world, I need to recognize my state of mind and
understand that today might not be the day to schedule a
one-on-one with an underperforming employee—even if
telling someone off sure would feel good.
Formulate a strategy.
Sometimes your strategy may be to put off what you’d
planned on doing for a more opportune time. If you can’t
delay the situation, take a minute and plan how best to
approach and communicate to your manager. If you have a good
relationship, you might say, “You seem to have a lot on
your plate and I wish I didn’t need to bring this to you
today, but if I wait, the situation will get worse,” to
give yourself an opening. If it’s you who’s flipped
out, try a little self-therapy and intellectualize the
situation. Say to yourself: “Self, you are not in a good
mood, but you need to delegate this task to Denise and she
needs some of your time to learn how to do it.” Then
simply decide not to take it out on Denise and don’t. Use
your controlling tendencies for good instead of evil and
control your own emotions.
Follow up with communication.
If you are the offender, then follow up with an explanation and
an apology. If you were the one caught in the line of fire, you
should still follow up. Pick your time carefully (some distance
is usually a good idea) and approach your manager. Say, in a
very respectful and concerned tone of voice, that her (pick
one) excluding you from an opportunity, anger, dismissal,
condescension or lack of collaboration was confusing to you
because typically she has been (pick one) inclusive, patient,
accessible, supportive and open to your ideas. Let her know
that you are not (pick one) angry, traumatized, scared or
resentful, just confused, and that you want to (pick one)
understand, take some things off of her plate or learn how to
handle the situation in the future.
Learn from experience. Every
time you or someone you work with displays a negative flipside,
take note. Identify what triggered the behavior, determine if
there is a consistent pattern, make an effort to avoid the hot
buttons, and find an effective strategy to move forward. If you
can’t do this yourself, find someone who’s already
learned how to manage the situation, go to HR, or seek out a
mentor for some sound advice. No matter how you learn, you must
learn. Continuing to be vulnerable to a bad toss of the coin is
a no-win situation for everyone concerned.
Kramer is The Council’s senior vice president, Office
of the President.