Chapter One

Working with people

Building influence comes when you learn how to work with people as an Assistant, get the most out of their character and understand their behaviours.

GUIDE: Preparing for a new Personal or Executive Assistant Job

Working with people as an Assistant, you might not think you influence your organisation. Let me tell you now. You have a lot of influence. You are asked your opinion, and you have an impact with very senior members in your organisation and the business as a whole.

You are seen as someone with a lot of knowledge, you know where everything is, you make things happen, and you know all the great suppliers to call up when you need something quickly, which makes you an influencer!

Knowing how to influence those around you is a brilliant skill to have, and throughout this guide, we will show you how to build your influence and use it to progress your career.

In this chapter, we are going to look at how Assistants can work with those around them and build relationships. Chapter one will cover:

Assistants are their organisation’s influencers

Working with people as an Assistant

What does it mean to be an influencer?

In terms of a social media influencer, this is someone who influences others to make decisions because of their following, knowledge or position with their audience. We all know and probably follow social media influencers, and we’ve probably bought something based on their opinion.

So where do Assistants come into the picture?

When it comes to working with people as an Assistant, think about your area of expertise, what are you good at and what sets you apart from other member’s of your team and other Assistants in your organisation?

What is your area of influence?

This is the stuff that you know inside out and back to front and can help other people with and make decisions on.

Can you do things a little differently?

Some of the best-loved social media influencers are in positions of influence because they didn’t follow the crowd. Take, for example, The Unmummsy Mum. She started writing a blog about the ups and downs of motherhood (in all its undignified glory) because she couldn’t find any other mum blogs to relate to, they were just that little bit too perfect. Fast forward a few years, and she is one of the most popular ‘mummy bloggers’ on the world wide web.

Think about how and where you can challenge the status quo at work, are there any systems or tasks that could use a fresh pair of eyes.

Can you breathe a bit of life into a project that could use your expertise?

If you are seen as someone who does things a little differently, you will have a group of followers who like your way of thinking in no time.

Who are the other influencers in your organisation?

Networking is the number one tool for influencers and one that you should undoubtedly use to increase your circle of influence.

Think about some of the other influencers in your business, who are they and what makes them so influential? Get in touch, meet for coffee and pick their brain. Perhaps you can collaborate on something together. There is always strength in numbers.

Assistants we are ultimate team players!

Working with people as an Assistant

On pretty much every job description for Assistants, you will see the phrase, ‘must be a team player’. It is so common that it is easy to skim over that requirement – sure, we all have to be team players, next! But, I want to pause a minute and look at the skills required to be a team player.

It is a critical skill for Assistants as we have to align our goals with that of our Executive and our organisation. If we don’t see our partnership with our Executive as a team pursuit, the relationship will always struggle to get off the ground.

We need to work well with people from all parts of the business, and we need to collaborate with everyone around us. So, Assistants, we do have to see ourselves as part of a team, and these are the skills you need that will help you do just that!

Advising

For Assistants, giving feedback and offering advice is so critical.

Working with people as an Assistant, we have to keep an open dialogue with our Executives so that we know the partnership is working effectively, which means we also have to give our Executive feedback. Eeekkk right?

This is hard, providing feedback to the person that runs the team? Department? Division? Organisation? Yup! It is part of the role, and if given constructively and with the right mindset (and timed correctly) can help improve your role and ultimately your career.

Offering well-meaning advice will always make you a team player.

Collaboration

Every business and organisation needs its employees to work together, to move projects forward and reach common goals. Collaboration is an essential skill for everyone.

However, for Assistants, collaboration is vital.

We have to work with other members of staff on projects and reaching common goals.

We also have to build a fantastic relationship with our Executives, which are based so heavily on collaboration, trust and cooperation. To succeed as an Assistant, we need to be collaborative.

Communication

Communication is something we do instinctively, and it is something we do without much thought daily with team and those around us.

Choosing the right words and tone, proactively listening and genuinely getting our message across are skills that we need to continue to finesse and with so many new ways to communicate with our Executives and teams. Assistants must know the best way to keep in contact, how to use that form of communication and when to use it.

Empathy

Assistants have buckets full of compassion; you wouldn’t be in the job if you didn’t. What I find is that empathy can often be taken advantage of by people who don’t respect what we do – be it, that colleague who wants your time or that Executive who doesn’t understand your role.

Empathy can quickly diminish when you don’t feel respected, or quite frankly someone just pisses you off. So compassion is essential – you have to figure out why someone is acting the way that they are and deal with them accordingly.

Compassion is hard to muster sometimes but try to understand where they are coming from you will feel 100% better – trust me!

Flexibility

Assistants have to roll with the punches.

They have not to let the never-ending changes (hello rescheduling) get them down. Organisations are now moving at such a speed that flexibility is becoming a real sort after skill. You have got to get yourself in a mindset that allows for constant change.

Negotiating

Persuading people to do things for you or getting them around to your way of thinking is tough but, again, how much easier would your job be if you had excellent persuasion skills?

Being persuasive comes down to communication and confidence, speaking passionately yes, but also getting people to think it was their idea in the first place. I’ve always found if you talk passionately about something but base what you are saying it is harder to be ignored.

Patience

Ooofff, patience is a tough one, right?

When your Executive asks you the same question 20 times it is your human right to go bat shit crazy at them. But don’t. You’ll be sacked, even if you are obviously in the right. That is where patience comes in because part of our role is to answer all of those questions and be helpful. Breath, reset and go again.

Trustworthy

Assistants must gain their Executive and team’s confidence. They rely so heavily on you that the only way for the relationship to work is if they can trust you with anything they throw at you. You also have to inspire trust in your colleagues; you are the bridge between the top level.

Executive’s and the rest of the employees, so they have to trust that you know what you are doing. If they don’t, you will find they go straight to the Executive rather than coming to you first. This can cause no end of headaches for you. So, inspiring trust both in terms of keeping confidence but also inspiring others to trust your skills. Getting this right will make your job a whole lot easier.

Working with the executive team

Working with people as an Assistant

As Assistants most of us will interact with our organisation’s Executive team on a daily if not hourly basis. Your manager may well be part of the Executive team. If that is the case you will have even more phone calls, meetings and general engagement with other Directors and top-level members of staff. It can be a little scary dealing with the people that run your organisation, especially if they are prickly characters or highly demanding.

Unlike other members of staff working with the Executive team brings a whole host of rules and a particular style of working. I once worked with an assistant on a temporary contract. She talked to everyone in the same manner and tone. She was a board-level assistant, and unfortunately, the Executive team didn’t take to kindly to being called ‘mate’ and or ‘darling’. She was good at her job, but her communication style with the Executive team didn’t match up to their expectations of a board-level assistant, and she was let go.

This isn’t the first time I’ve worked with assistants who have clashed with the Executive team either because they are strong personalities themselves or they are a bit overwhelmed by the demands of the Executives. Having a good working relationship with the Executive team is mostly down to common sense, but for Assistants, it is a relationship that needs to be nurtured and taken seriously.

Here are my etiquette tips when it comes to working with the Executive team.

Always appear calm even if you are feeling under pressure. You don’t want to let the Executive team ever think that you are not in control of your job.

It is okay to share a joke with members of the Executive team, but I would add a word of caution here. If you don’t know them very well, I would just be polite and approachable with a ready smile.

Let them be the first person to make a joke.

I’ve found over the years that some Board level Directors tend to ask whoever is nearest to them to get things or do something for them (particularly if the nearest person is in an administrative role). This can be frustrating, especially if you are busy doing something else. In my experience, it is best just to do what they ask if it is something small.

I used to sit right next to the board room and was always asked to top up cups of tea and replenish plates of biscuit. It was annoying, but I would still get up and do it because they were members of the Executive team. I wouldn’t do it for any other member of staff.

If you are in the middle of an urgent task or you are doing something for your actual boss when another Director asks you to do something, let them know you will come back to them asap. If you can fit the work in then, I suggest that you do. If it is an unreasonable request, make sure you stand your ground and calmly explain the situation. Offering an alternative solution is always a good approach.

You can also ask their PA to pick up the task because you are too busy to help.

I have often supported additional Executives while their assistant is away on holiday. It is an excellent way to get to know other Directors and understand different parts of the business.

I have also supported Executives who are new to the organisation and have found they are always more pleasant because they see first hand how you work and support the organisation. It might be extra work at the time but well worth it.

Confidentiality is key to a productive working relationship with your Executive Team.

This is a crucial part of the assistant role, but it is worth reiterating here. Don’t gossip! If the Executive team find out you had talked about what happened in last week’s board meeting when one of the Directors went mental – well you’re not going to be in their good books are you!?

Do remember that they are people too. Exchange usual pleasantries as you would do with anyone else. I’ve often found that Executives tend to be less guarded around assistants because they know what the relationship is like between an assistant and a Director. They know that assistants can be trusted and are used to dealing with high-level Execs.

It can be difficult and daunting working with the leaders of your organisation but once you understand how to communicate and how to present yourself the rewards are high. Supporting people that make the decisions in your business can be exhilarating so it is well worth investing the time in making the relationship work.

How to really deal with difficult colleagues

As the saying goes, you can choose your friends, but you sure can’t choose your family. The same can apply to co-workers. Working with people as an Assistant, some colleagues you will get on with and form a good working relationship, on the other hand, some you will walk up eight flights of stairs to avoid sharing the lift with, either way, unless you quit your job, you don’t have a choice about seeing them on a daily basis.

If, by some miracle, you like all of your colleagues count yourself very lucky because from my experience there will always be one or two people who you struggle to work with and to know how to deal with difficult colleagues can be such a bonus.

Hopefully, the co-workers that you are less keen on don’t impact your day too much, you might find them annoying but not to the point you can’t put up with them but what happens when you do have to work with this person frequently. They are affecting how you work and how you feel about the job you do?

I’ve come across a handful of difficult people in my time and trust me unless you deal with the situation; it only tends to get worse. So how do you deal with these people? There are some different approaches you can use; here are some that I have learnt along the way.

Identify what it is that you don’t like about this person – be specific. Is it that they talk too much, are they passive-aggressive, are they always stealing the credit, do they slack off? Defining the personality trait you don’t like is the first step in dealing with the problem.

Think about why you don’t like this type of person, is it something to do with your personality rather than theirs? For me, I can’t stand those who are self-important; it drives me nuts! But, if I’m honest, I know I don’t get on with people like that because I struggle to have confidence in my abilities and naturally gravitate to people who are humble and self-deprecating.

That’s just my preference, and it has taken me a while to realise it doesn’t necessarily mean the annoying person is in the wrong.

Talk to your trusted colleagues to see if they have experienced the same problem with this person or if it is just you. It is perfectly fine if you are the only one, but at least you will gain some perspective.

Don’t use this opportunity as a chance to moan about your colleague (save that for your friends and family) instead of trying to talk through some options to resolve the issue. In other words, make it a constructive discussion because you don’t want to appear like someone who moans about work and doesn’t do anything about it.

This might be a difficult pill to swallow but have you tried to get to know this person?

It may sound like a horrible situation, but it might be worthwhile taking them out for a drink after work or a lunchtime coffee. You never know they may be completely different outside of the office, they might be nice! If you do this and you find yourself hating them even more, at least you tried, and you can pat yourself on the back for that.

Can you confront the person yourself?

If you have the confidence to talk with them directly, then you should. Don’t be overly aggressive but do be firm and tell them how their behaviour impacts on you. They may not be aware of their actions, and a conversation might nip it in the bud before your relationship becomes a severe problem.

If they are particularly tricky, they may try to brush off their behaviour or explain it away but stick to your guns and make sure you come to a conclusion that enables you to get on with your job.

If you find it challenging to talk face to face or you don’t have the confidence, it might help to send them an email. Explain that you are nervous about broaching the subject with them directly and are writing your feelings down in the hope that you can resolve any future problems. If you are shy, this is the right approach as you are still dealing with this person but in a manner that is more suitable for you.

This approach is probably slightly childish, but sometimes with difficult people, you have to give them the silent treatment. Distance yourself and don’t give them your time.

This is particularly effective for those harmful types who bring the office environment down and want to spend time-sharing their grumbles with everyone else. Avoidance might seem like a cowardly way out, but it works, and once these types are cut off, they tend to lose their energy or take it elsewhere.

Do you have support from your boss?

If so make use of it, ask them for their advice on how to deal with this person. You never know they might feel the same and decide to speak to them on your behalf. If the difficult person is your manager, it can appear to be more problematic and something you have to put up with. I think it makes the situation slightly easier as your boss, as part of their job, has to manage you correctly.

Find some time to speak to HR and ask them to act as a mediator between the two of you. Lousy management reflects poorly on the manager – not you.

If it gets awful, is it possible for you to distance yourself from this person, move to a different team or department?

Remember we have two survival moods fight or flight.

Flight is not necessarily a bad reaction to a stressful situation. Sometimes battles are too much, and you have to flee. If it is that bad find another job. Life is way too short.

Stakeholder management tips for assistants

Working with people

As some of you will know I used to work in a department full of ‘change management professionals’. Their job was to initiate projects that would improve procedures or systems within other departments.

As you can imagine, they were not always the most popular members of staff! The organisation was 250 years old, and some of the employees had been working at the company their entire adult lives. They didn’t always take kindly to other people telling them what they had been doing for years and years and years needed to be improved.

Thankfully my colleagues had an arsenal of change management tools that enabled them to deal with even the most stubborn of employees.

It can be really easy to forget how even simple changes can affect others. I once spent a quiet afternoon over Christmas organising my department’s stationery cupboard and storage units. It was something that had needed attention for a while, but I had been too busy. I was quite pleased with myself once I had cleared everything out and made the cupboard orderly and clean.

Once everyone returned from their Christmas break I wasn’t expecting anyone to notice, well maybe some praise, but instead I received hostility boarding on abuse! I hadn’t thought the stationery cupboard was such a sacred place, but it was to individual members of staff who argued they could no longer find what they needed.

This little example amongst many others proved to me that the tools my old colleagues used to manage stakeholders were very useful if I wanted to make change stick. To make a successful change, you must think about how that change will affect your colleagues. You may have to cox them into excepting the changes, but it will be worth it if you do want to ensure your new procedures are followed. Working with people as an Assistant, this is really useful.

Here is my favourite tool to use when it comes to change management projects:

Stakeholder Matrix

 

 

This matrix is excellent because it is simple, but it makes you think about the people that might be affected by the changes you are going to introduce. Each number represents a different stakeholder. It is important to remember that stakeholders can move between each of these groups.

Stakeholder one:

These colleagues are your most important stakeholders, and it is worthwhile you getting them on board early. They have a high degree of influence, and they are essential within your organisation. They will most likely be senior members of staff. Still, they might also be the individual that is most affected by your new procedures, for example, another assistant within your department. You will need to have a good working relationship with these stakeholders so that they support your project. If you don’t engage these individuals, they might well jeopardise the changes you plan to make.

Stakeholder two:

Again these individuals are essential to the success of your changes, but they don’t have much influence in your department. These are the type of people that are easy to ignore, but they might not follow your new procedures and bring the project into jeopardy. You should invest in this group of stakeholders, listen to their concerns and make them feel part of the process.

Stakeholder three:

This is a risky group of individuals. They have significant influence, but they have little interest in the project until it suddenly comes on their radar and they demand your attention. If this happens, they can have a considerable impact. It is worth keeping an eye on these stakeholders, let them know what you have planned and make sure they are comfortable before you proceed.

Stakeholder four:

You can’t keep an eye on everyone, so this is group to spend the least amount of time with. Definitely bear them in mind when you introduce your changes but they have little interest and little influence so hopefully won’t cause you too much bother.

Chasing colleagues who do not report to you

Working with people as an Assistant

Imagine the scene – you’ve been asked to lead on a piece of work, for example, compiling a report or managing a new project. You have to gather information from several colleagues so that you can complete the work you have been given.

As the days and weeks go by, you have received most of the information you need, and most of your colleagues have been helpful. However, you still need a few key details from an individual member of staff. No matter how much you have chased for this information the person has yet to deliver and is delaying the completion of the tasks.

Sound familiar?

I think we’ve all been in this position before. For Assistants, it can be difficult – the likelihood of us have any authority over this person minimal, and more often than not they will be more senior if not working at board level alongside our Executive. Depending on how senior this person is, it can be inappropriate continually chasing them, and the project or task grinds to a halt, making you look incompetent.

So what can Assistants do when they need to chase colleagues for work who do not report to them? Here are a few tips.

Be realistic with deadlines.

This is the first point. You must be realistic about your deadlines. Remember how annoying it is when someone asks you to do something ‘urgent’ when you both know the only reason the work is urgent is that it has sat on their desk for the last month.

If you need somebody to do something for you, give them plenty of time to complete the task, set reminders to follow up on their progress (not every day, but maybe once a week?) and ask if they need any more information from you to get the job done. If the work does require a quick turn around time, explain why it is urgent and how it fits into the bigger picture.

Be polite and show empathy.

Let’s face it; someone is more likely to complete some work for you if they like you, so be nice! Be polite, ask nicely and make them feel like they are unique. I know that can feel like a massive waste of time but having worked as an EA, I felt the extra time to build those relationships was worth it.

I always made colleagues feel like they were doing something important when completing work for me because the task was for someone in the c-suite, or it contributed directly to the success of the business.

If you have chased the person a few times, try to show some empathy and understanding. What is the issue that is causing them the delay? Can you move the deadline, work around the problem or ask them to pass on the task to someone else? Try to find out why they are not producing the goods before you get incredibly angry with them!

Explain why it is needed and why it is important to you

As I said, when an Assistant asks for something, co-workers should assume that the work is required for their boss or their boss’s boss. Or at the very least, someone important in your office or maybe even a client. Usually, people get this and get the work done.

But of course, some people don’t manage their time effectively for anyone. So, you may find that you have to explain why the work is needed, who it is for, how it fits into the overall success of the business and why it is important to you and your Executive.

Make the whole process easy for them.

Make it easy for them to respond to your request. If it is literally to get their approval, ask them to reply with ‘approved’. Keep your communication short and concise.

Don’t ask them for anything other than the thing you need. If the task is complicated, why not schedule a quick follow up meeting (15 minutes max) so that you can sit with them face to face and get what you need.

Some people are much better at completing tasks if they feel the urgency or pressure to do so. It is easy to say you will do something face to face or via email and forget about it two minutes later. Arranging a meeting with that person is a great way to create a sense of urgency. Another method is arranging time at their desk so that you can sit there while they complete the work. It makes you a pain in the ass, but it also ensures the work is completed!

Do they have an Assistant?

You know how often colleagues come to you to chase your Executive for information. The same applies to other Execs and their assistants. If the culprit is a senior member of staff with an Assistant, it is worth speaking to the assistant to firstly find out if the task is on the Execs radar and pushing them to chase on your behalf.

Back the request up with an email.

I’m not a big fan of asking somebody to do something and then sending an email to confirm that request. It doesn’t instil much trust does it! But saying that it is useful when you have chased someone a few times, and they have told you they will complete the work by a specific date.

A follow-up email confirming the date will ensure you have a record of that promise and something to use if they don’t deliver the work on time. For assistants, following up with an email can also ensure they have a record if their Executive has to chase on their behalf or asks why their project deadlines have not been met.

Can you copy their boss in?

Sometimes (depending on how urgent the work is) copying their boss into a chase email will get the ball rolling. I would suggest you use this as the last straw and perhaps it is better to speak to their manager rather than copying them into a chase email.

As most of your work relates back to your Executive any missed deadlines or incomplete work will affect them eventually. Make sure your colleague is aware of this – do they really want to get on the wrong side of your Executive… and you for that matter?

How to manage conflict at work

Assistants are involved in so many aspects of the business that we will often witness this conflict, if not, be directly affected. Conflict can be useful – it can drive creativity and move the business forward. But it can also cause unneeded interruptions, create roadblocks and cause stress and anxiety for the employees. The behaviours that we express when we come into contact with conflict are wide and varied, and there is a brilliant matrix that is used by most leading behavioural scientists to measure how we all react.

I wanted to share this knowledge with you today because I think it will help Assistants decide how to respond when faced with contentious situations.

Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI)

I wanted to bring the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) to your attention before we start to look at how Assistants can specifically manage conflict. The TKI is the leading process in conflict resolution and management. It is used by mediators, negotiators and most HR and Organisational Development consultants. Thomas and Kilmann came up with a method that shows how people react to conflict and how their behaviour results in the dispute being resolved. Here is a breakdown of the formula:

The TKI is designed to measure a person’s behaviour in conflict situations. “Conflict situations” are those in which the concerns of two people appear to be incompatible. In such situations, we can describe an individual’s behaviour along two dimensions: (1) assertiveness, the extent to which the person attempts to satisfy his own concerns, and (2) cooperativeness, the extent to which the person attempts to satisfy the other person’s concerns.

There are five different types of response that we all use when dealing with conflict. They are:

  • Competing
  • Collaborating
  • Compromising
  • Avoiding
  • Accommodating

Here is a good break down of how the models work with assertive or cooperative behaviour:

Let’s look at each of the types of response and how they might affect conflict management. Again this is taken from An Overview of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI)

  • Competing is assertive and uncooperative—an individual pursues his own concerns at the other person’s expense. This is a power-oriented mode in which you use whatever power seems appropriate to win your own position—your ability to argue, your rank, or economic sanctions. Competing means “standing up for your rights,” defending a position which you believe is correct, or simply trying to win.
  • Accommodating is unassertive and cooperative—the complete opposite of competing. When accommodating, the individual neglects his own concerns to satisfy the concerns of the other person; there is an element of self-sacrifice in this mode. Accommodating might take the form of selfless generosity or charity, obeying another person’s order when you would prefer not to, or yielding to another’s point of view.
  • Avoiding is unassertive and uncooperative—the person neither pursues his own concerns nor those of the other individual. Thus he does not deal with the conflict. Avoiding might take the form of diplomatically sidestepping an issue, postponing an issue until a better time, or simply withdrawing from a threatening situation.
  • Collaborating is both assertive and cooperative—the complete opposite of avoiding. Collaborating involves an attempt to work with others to find some solution that fully satisfies their concerns. It means digging into an issue to pinpoint the underlying needs and wants of the two individuals. Collaborating between two persons might take the form of exploring a disagreement to learn from each other’s insights or trying to find a creative solution to an interpersonal problem.
  • Compromising is moderate in both assertiveness and cooperativeness. The objective is to find some expedient, mutually acceptable solution that partially satisfies both parties. It falls intermediate between competing and accommodating. Compromising gives up more than competing but less than accommodating. Likewise, it addresses an issue more directly than avoiding but does not explore it in as much depth as collaborating. In some situations, compromising might mean splitting the difference between the two positions, exchanging concessions, or seeking a quick middle-ground solution.

Now that we know how we tend to deal with conflict at work, the obvious next step is looking at how to manage conflict. We all use these different strategies.

We are all capable of competing when in conflict, avoiding it or compromising. The reality is that conflict in the workplace isn’t going away, so the best option is to look at what the root cause of conflict tends to be, and that is lack of communication.

When I say ‘lack of communication’ I really mean, lack of information or the wrong information. Clear, concise, timely communications will always ease tension. Everyone knows where they stand. They might not like where they stand, but they know for sure the reasons behind it!

How to show empathy at work

Assistants have buckets full of empathy; you wouldn’t be in the job if you didn’t. What I find is that empathy can often be taken advantage of by people who don’t respect what we do – be it, that colleague who wants your time or that Executive who doesn’t understand your role. Empathy can quickly diminish when you don’t feel respected, or quite frankly someone pisses you off.

So compassion is essential – you have to figure out why someone is acting the way that they are and deal with them accordingly. But what if that person is annoying? We all work with people that annoy us, but still, we must rise above and be compassionate.

You might be tempted to avoid people like this, but that isn’t always possible. So instead here are a few suggestions that will help you show empathy with even the most annoying person!

Cognitive empathy vs emotional empathy

I like this explanation from the Harvard Business Review:

There are two types of empathy: cognitive empathy, the ability to understand another person’s perspective, and emotional empathy, the ability to feel what someone else feels. “Both of these tend to shut down when you feel annoyed or frustrated,” Annie McKee says. But you must fight against that.

To summon cognitive empathy for an annoying colleague, McKee recommends generating theories that might explain “why this person says what he says, thinks what he thinks, and acts the way he acts. Unearth your curiosity,” she says. Ask yourself: “What motivates this person? What excites and inspires him?” Go “beyond your own worldview” and reflect on “what may be in his cultural background, education, family situation, or day-to-day pressures that’s causing him to behave this way.” Remember: The goal here is to “understand this person’s perspective,” Fernandez adds. “It doesn’t mean you have to adopt it, validate it, or agree with it, but you do have to acknowledge it.”

To muster emotional empathy for that colleague, “find something in them to care about,” McKee says. One way to deal with someone who irritates you is to “picture that person as a six-year-old,” she adds. In other words, remember that “they’re only human.”

The hypotheses you generated to explain your colleague’s behaviour could be helpful here, too, according to Fernandez: “Maybe this person is stressed or under pressure, or maybe this person is just not having a perfect day.” You don’t have to “become a psychologist and get into their childhood,” but you do have to make an effort to experience “emotional resonance.” The result is often, “I get it.”

Be diplomatic

In my mind, diplomacy is ‘the art of dealing with people sensitively and tactfully.’ It is the ability to communicate with people using an approach that considers their feelings and potential reaction to the situation. It is a skill that allows Assistants to find common ground with every person at every level of business, even those who are annoying!

Show kindness

This is the first step. Show everyone kindness, even annoying people! If there is one particular person who you don’t like to be around, make yourself say hello to them every morning. Go out of your way to show them kindness and compassion. The more you do it, the easier it will get, and you might even stop assuming the worst about them. You can choose to be empathetic because you are in control of your emotions. Choice empathy and kindness or frustration and annoyance!

Be patient

When your annoying colleague asks you the same question 20 times, or turns up to the meeting, late, again, it is your human right to be less than empathetic! But don’t. Be patient. Breath, reset and go again.

Get to know them

This might be a difficult pill to swallow but have you tried to get to know this person? It may sound like a horrible situation, but it might be worthwhile taking them out for a drink after work or a lunchtime coffee. You never know they may be completely different outside of the office, they might be nice! If you do this and you find yourself hating them even more, at least you tried. Go back to showing them empathy but don’t worry about befriending them!

Have a conversation with them

Can you confront the person yourself? If you have the confidence to talk with them directly, then you should. Don’t be overly aggressive but do be firm and tell them how their behaviour impacts on you. They may not be aware of their actions, and a conversation might nip it in the bud before your relationship becomes a severe problem. If they are particularly tricky, they may try to brush off their behaviour or explain it away but stick to your guns and make sure you come to a conclusion that enables you to get on with your job.

If you find it challenging to talk face to face or you don’t have the confidence, it might help to send them an email. Explain that you are nervous about broaching the subject with them directly and are writing your feelings down in the hope that you can resolve any future problems.

Chapter Two:

Navigating Office Politics for Assistants
Chapter TWO