Q: One of my co-workers is territorial and has a hard time if I talk to our mutual clients without him. Our roles are different so it makes sense to have independent conversations. How can I get through to him that I’m not cutting him out?
A: Find a balance between communicating and standing your ground.
The inner game: If he’s getting under your skin, take some time to get your reactions under control. Frustration, resentment, anger — none of these will serve you well. Focus, breathe and let your emotions settle.
Then consider his perspectives. What may he be worrying about? It doesn’t matter if you agree or not. The important thing is to deepen your understanding so that you address his worries with empathy.
Putting this behavior in a broader context, think about what you’ve noticed in his interactions with others, in particular about power dynamics. It’s quite a different matter if the “turfiness” is more pronounced just with you than if it’s his general style.
What other resources do you have to manage the situation? If you report to the same manager, consider whether you need additional support, and if your manager would be likely to provide it.
Finally, clarify in your own mind how big an issue this is and how far you’re willing to go to address it. Is it a big enough problem that it’s a “him or me” if it doesn’t change? If so, you may want to be considering an exit strategy. If it’s more of an annoyance, focus on approaches that make your life easier.
The outer game: Communication will be at the heart of your approach. You’ll get the best results by planning the timing and content.
First of all, don’t address the issue in the heat of the moment. That’ll only cause emotions to flare and could easily make things worse. Instead, set up time for coffee in a “touch base” meeting. He may well ask about the agenda; in that case, you might say something general about being able to work together effectively.
Go into the conversation assuming the best of his intentions. He may well just not have a clear view of your role, so discussion about your respective roles and responsibilities may be all it takes. Even if you’ve tried this already, it’ll be a neutral way to begin your meeting.
What if he is defensive or resistant to talking about this? In that case, talk directly about what you’re observing — “It looks like this is bothering you ...” — to give him an opening to lay out his point of view. Stay open to hearing whatever he has to say — don’t argue, just clarify as much as you can.
Establish some mutually agreed upon ground rules for working with joint clients. You may need help from a third party if you’re having trouble finding common ground. And remember to keep perspective so that any stress it causes doesn’t carry over into other aspects of your job or personal life.
The last word: Focus on building a shared point of view to reduce turf battles at work.
Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience who runs Reyer Coaching & Consulting.