Simple Solutions to Tricky Workplace Challenges

You've e-mailed your company's CIO twice to request his approval on a pressing project. With no response from him and your deadline approaching, you seem to be out of options. Then you decide to speak with the CIO's executive assistant, who helps you reach him and get the answer you need in time. Crisis averted!

IT professionals face workplace challenges like this nearly every day. While strong technical skills, solid interpersonal abilities and extensive industry experience are invaluable for succeeding in your career, sometimes a little finesse and good judgment are even more critical.

Following are three tricky situations you may encounter on the job and ways to successfully navigate each.

Workplace Challenge 1: You and a co-worker clash

Situation:Your department is developing a new application for the sales team, so you and the sales manager interact nearly every day. The trouble is that the two of you are like oil and water - and will be working together for the foreseeable future. What can you do to complete the project despite the rocky relationship?

Solutions: Your first step should be to examine why you and your co-worker don't get along. Perhaps the two of you clash because of a conflict that occurred in the past. If this is the case, it's time to make amends. Arrange a meeting so both of you can air your grievances. Try to get to the root of the problem and acknowledge any ways in which you may have aggravated the issue. If, for example, you did not offer the support you should have when you worked with the colleague on a previous project team, apologize for your behavior and express your desire to repair the rift.

If, instead of a single incident, the problem is that your personalities do not mesh, consider whether you and your co-worker are really as dissimilar as you believe. For example, you may be upset that each time you e-mail her with detailed questions about the sales application, she responds with simple one-word answers. But your co-worker may feel she has answered you fully. Put yourself in your colleague's shoes to see if you're interpreting her actions correctly. Likewise, let her know more about your preferred method of communicating, work style, and job-related pressures or challenges, so she can better understand what makes you tick.

Realize that you and your co-worker do not have to be friends to have a productive professional relationship. As much as possible, focus on your commons goals, not personal differences. Remain professional and remember that you will need each other's help to accomplish your objectives.

If, despite your best efforts, problems persist between you and your colleague, especially ones that begin to affect the quality of the work you produce, enlist your manager's help in resolving the situation.

Workplace Challenge 2: You lack the skills for a promotion

Situation: You're interested in a promotion that requires frequent interaction with senior management. The new position would be good for your career, but you're unsure of your ability to communicate effectively with executives. You also have little experience delivering high-profile presentations. How can you build the skills you need for the job?

Solutions: IT is playing a larger role than ever before in firms' overall business strategies. Therefore, it's becoming increasingly important for professionals at all levels to possess strong soft skills, or interpersonal abilities such as public speaking and general business savvy. These abilities are particularly important for higher-level positions, where individuals are required to communicate the bottom-line benefits of IT strategies to a wide range of nontechnical audiences and must have the tact and diplomacy to work within project teams. As a result, developing your soft skills is vital for career success, whether or not you're currently pursuing a promotion.

Start to build your soft skills by evaluating the training opportunities that exist in-house. Does your company offer online courses or tuition reimbursement if you enroll in an outside class?

If your current employer doesn't have a formal training program in place, you can still gain valuable skills from managers, co-workers and mentors. Ask them how they have built their soft skills and what guidance they can provide to make the process easier for you. In which areas do they think you are already strong, and where can you improve?

Another good tactic is to identify those within your department whose communication skills are strong, such as the people who clearly articulate their opinions at staff meetings. What can you learn by observing them?

And don't forget about professional associations. If you belong to one, volunteer for a committee, help plan an event or offer to deliver a presentation on network security issues. Doing so can help you build your soft skills in a nonthreatening environment.

Workplace Challenge 3: You are bored at work

Situation: You started a new position two weeks ago -- and have been bored from Day One. The tasks you are being given require little effort to complete, and you have nothing to do most of the time. How can you secure more engaging work?

Solutions: Most workers are afraid of being overworked; however, being underworked can be just as damaging to your morale and motivation. After all, it can be discouraging to not be able to use the skills you are proud of.

If you are in this situation, consider the following questions:

Are you performing the same job that was described to you during the hiring process? If you have been given the responsibilities that you agreed to take, you may need to re-evaluate your career interests.

Is the company experiencing a temporary slowdown? Speak to others in the department to see if shortages of work are common and if the pace is expected to pick up soon.

Is the firm giving you simple tasks to ease you into your new role? Let your manager know that you are ready to take on more challenging assignments.

If you have already spoken to your boss about your workload and still find yourself with few assignments, start identifying activities that will allow you to build skills during your downtime. For example, your firm may have recently switched to a new database system. Buy a copy of the system's technical manual and study it at work. Or consider approaching colleagues who seem especially busy. Lending a hand can help you learn new technologies and meet others within the company, including decision-makers who may be more interested than your current manager in putting you to work full time.

While there aren't always clear, simple answers for workplace challenges like these, there are tactics you can use to address -- and improve -- almost any problem. Be calm, be honest, and be diplomatic to successfully resolve the next tricky situation you face.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in the North America and Europe, and offers online job search services at www.rht.com.

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