Leading Challenging Individuals

 · 3 mins read

One area where I have experienced the most personal growth over the past year is in working with challenging individuals and situations. In my position, I have a lot of responsibility, but not a lot of authority. It is a recipe for increased anxiety! I am responsible for delivering good outcomes, but ultimately I am just one person who doesn’t have a lot of say in how the outcomes are achieved. Sometimes a lot of my day to day work is just documenting that I made suggestions, noted potential pitfalls, and tried to correct errors, but that ultimately my feedback was not implemented for xyz reasons…

As a result, I have learned a great deal about how I handle situations and people who make my work more challenging (and anxiety inducing). When I first got into the industry, I was very personally tied to every piece of work, every client, and every product. Failure of product was a direct failure of me as a professional. I used to get very angry and emotionally enveloped in project management drama. I had heard all the variations on common pieces of advice such as “You are not the sum of your career achievements” and “Don’t live to work, work to live,” but I shrugged those off and told myself they didn’t apply to me because I was dedicated to producing a good product, and that if others would only listen to me and my ideas, I wouldn’t be half a stressed. Basically, I was too close to the weeds to see the meadow.

Anyway, PSEL has provided me a good opportunity to further explore my personality and my strengths and weaknesses, and with a little deeper thinking on these issues I was facing at work, I have been able to surmise a few takeaways to help me understand my reactions in these situations and based on that understanding, prevent them or re-frame them for future (inevitable) confrontations.

The first realizations that I had are essentially what I touched on in the first paragraph. I have what feels like a lot of responsibility, but little authority/control over delivering a good product, which feeds anxiety that balloons the problem. I talked with my supervisor about this, and documenting concerns and suggestions was the way we decided we could overcome this barrier, or at least make it feel less threatening.

Once I was able to peel off that first layer of frustration, I found myself better able to step back and reframe the situations I was facing. I reminded myself that people weren’t being difficult simply to make my life difficult, but that the types of people I often work with are the ones who have little experience in this field and therefore bring their own anxiety to the table about the product as well. In the end, the faculty who are teaching the classes I work on are the ones ultimately responsible for the success of their students – I can only do so much behind the scenes to make that happen. By putting myself in their position, I could see why some people dig their heels in over seemingly silly details. If their class is going to flop, they want to at least know that they tried all the best ideas they thought they could, regardless of what I had to say about it. It’s a position I can relate to (per my last blog post!).

In summary, the mindfulness I’ve learned from PSEL has allowed me to approach tough situations in ways that let me be more empathetic and open to different perspectives, and that has had a great impact on my productivity and workplace satisfaction! Being able to realistically look at my responsibilities in a team-based project management environment helped me calm my anxiety over failure and even allowed me to put myself in the place of my clients and find a little bit of common ground, too.