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The topics of “soft skills” and the importance of being able to get along with people in the workplace were discussion topics at a recent alumni panel. One of the panelists, a former student, shared a story about his experiences with a difficult co-worker and how he won her over.

He encountered his “challenge” the very first day on his new job. She was the admin who supported his unit. Consequently, his interactions with her were both frequent and necessary. Avoiding her was not an option. He described her as having a “stern demeanor” and said that she could be “quite abrupt when responding to employee requests.” Even when she was rude to him, he would smile and thank her for help. He would apologize for causing her extra work and ask if there was anything he could do to help.

One day, after he had been working with her for three months, she asked him for a favor. The office handyman was on vacation and she needed to have a keyboard slide attached to a desk for a new employee. Our Fulton Engineer jumped at this opportunity! He did have to lie on the floor to get the job done, and that was the turning point. Since that time, she has been nothing but pleasant and cooperative.

This story reminds me of something a recruiter told me when he spoke about hiring students with the potential for leadership. He said, “I can hire one shining star and that’s all I have — one great employee. I’m looking for those who make the team stronger when they are part of it; because, they can make others better.”

Developing positive working relationships with those whose personalities and styles differ from our own can be challenging, and at times, even difficult. It  takes time and patience. In cases where having to work with a difficult person cannot be avoided, it is worth making the personal investment to create a mutually beneficial smooth working relationship. Once you have discovered how to best complete tasks by working together, you might also find that you’ve  developed a genuine appreciation for each other!


Joyce Donahue is a career coach in the Fulton Engineering Career Center.  She is a nationally certified career counselor and hold Master Career Counselor membership status in the National Career Development Association.