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Can Technology Make it Easier to Work With Difficult People?

November 04, 2020 Collaboration and Productivity
Melissa Henley
By Melissa Henley

We all come across difficult people in our lives — be it a neighbor, relative, colleague, employee, customer or even a boss.

When faced with difficult people, especially at work, our first instinct is often to react with aggravation. But difficult people are everywhere. You can’t hide from them. Instead, you need to know how to identify them, and what to do about them.

There are innumerable varieties of difficult people. Some dismiss every conceivable idea as impossible. Some point out all the ways that whatever you’re discussing has failed in the past. Some talk and never listen. Some overpromise and underdeliver. Others compete with you for power, privilege and the boss’s favor, while others attempt to undermine you so you’re constantly on guard. Or maybe your difficult person has all of these traits rolled into one.

Most advice about difficult people relates to interpersonal skills — getting perspective, having a conversation and building bridges, among others. But what about using technology? Can technology help build a bridge so it’s easier to identify responsibilities, set boundaries and eliminate silos?

While technology can’t fix every problem, it can help with standardizing communication and setting boundaries, which are key to interacting with difficult people. While many different types of technology can help, let’s take a look at three key pieces of tech that can improve collaboration and eliminate confusion: project management platforms, web forms and process automation, and process analytics.

Project Management Platforms

Sometimes the most difficult part of a project is managing the people involved in it, especially when your work styles clash or you have difficulty communicating with each other.

While you may think that project management platforms are only for resource allocation and meeting deadlines, an often-overlooked benefit is improved team collaboration. Project management platforms give team members a method to collaborate on projects by discussing tasks and timelines, a place to share information, and a way to see outside their immediate responsibilities to the bigger picture.

Effective collaboration hinges on each team member knowing what needs to be done and knowing their colleagues’ progress. Supplement interpersonal chats with a shared to-do list to keep everyone on the same page — and set boundaries about who is responsible for what items. This also cuts down on email clutter and makes sure everyone is aware of the status of collaborative projects (and that your management team is in the loop, too).

Related Article: Internal Communicators, Please Don't Abandon the Intranet

Web Forms and Process Automation

We’ve all worked with that person: the person who hoards information as their source of power. They insist on being part of every task so "they know what’s going on." Soon things grind to a halt, and you’re creating extra steps to work around them, or to get information they won’t share.

Web forms and process automation can help. Typically, we look at automation as a way to digitize processes, cut down on paper and speed up approvals and reviews. While automation is the key to digital transformation, it can also help level the playing field when you’re working with someone who is competing with you or your team for power, privilege and the boss’s favor. 

When everyone is submitting the same form, there isn’t a debate over what an email may have meant or if it was even read. Using e-forms software with built in business process automation functionality to control and route common requests ensures everyone has the same information, everyone who needs to review it does so, and approvals occur quickly.

Consider using business process automation to cut out the busywork involved in everyday processes like expense report submittals, purchase order approvals, travel requests and contract renewals is one way to eliminate silos — and eliminate potential power plays.

Related Article: BPA vs. RPA: How Are They Similar, How Are They Different?

Process Analytics

We’ve all worked with someone who overpromises and under-delivers. Whether they’re on your team or another manager’s, when someone isn’t meeting expectations, it results in more work for everyone else.  

How is the issue affecting your productivity, your team’s work or your progress on projects? How can you address the situation in a way that’s productive for everyone? When you’re working with digital processes, you can better manage workloads and measure productivity. Using analytics, dashboards and other reporting tools, you can discover what’s holding you back, and provide data-driven answers to business-critical questions.

If you’ve automated processes, reporting and analytics built into content management platforms makes it easy to keep tabs on organization-wide activities to identify who is doing what, what has been completed, what’s overdue and how long things are taking. This gives you the data to identify bottlenecks and have crucial conversations with executives about what isn’t getting done and why.

Like all technology, these only help if everyone is working out of the same system, so along with implementing new systems, management needs to support and encourage their use. Here are some ideas to implement the cultural change necessary for technology adoption and to help your initiatives gain traction.

You’ll face difficult colleagues in any workplace. Ultimately, you need to stop making assumptions about a difficult person’s intent. By assuming the worst, you’re dooming any interaction to fail. While using technology to streamline communication and build bridges won’t change difficult people, it can make it easier to break down silos and eliminate conflict. 

About the Author

Melissa Henley is Senior Director of Customer Experience at KeyShot, the global leader of product design rendering software. Customers are at the heart of all Melissa does, and her passion is around connecting people to content that can have a genuine positive impact on their lives.


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