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Dealing With the Cultural Misfit

In every organization, there are key players who help define the company's culture. Over time, as a company matures and evolves, the established culture can shift, adapting to new business needs, leadership styles, and market demands. In this evolutionary process, a peculiar breed of employee may emerge - one who, though once a snug fit, now feels like a square peg in a round hole.

The Cultural Misfit.

You know the type. The guy who always asks the most tedious, boring, and repetitive questions. The gal who always brings up at least three reasons why a new idea won’t work. The person who is always very obviously working on something else during your team meetings.

Take "John" at XYZ Corp, for instance. Hired in the company’s nascent phase, he was a dynamic force. His unconventional approach was once an asset when the company thrived on thinking outside the box. But now, as the company culture transitions toward more scalability through processes, John's unconventional approach is becoming a thorn in the side. He's seen as disruptive and out of sync with the company's ethos to many of his peers. Everyone murmurs about his eccentric ways, but the question remains - what do you do when you're a peer, lacking the power to change the situation but deeply affected by it?

If you find yourself in such a scenario, remember firing might not always be the solution, and sometimes, a more strategic approach can turn the tide. Here's a three-step guide to navigating the choppy waters:

1. Approach with Empathy

The first step is understanding. What might appear as "annoying behavior" might have its roots in a range of issues, from personal challenges to simply feeling out of place. Approach your colleague and express genuine curiosity about their perspectives. For example:

"Hey John, I noticed you often challenge our new processes during our team meetings. Can you help me understand your viewpoint better?"

Through intentional conversations with him, you will gain a deeper understanding, and it's also possible John will self-reflect, perhaps realizing that he's out of alignment with the broader team. Wishful thinking?

2. Strengthen the Bond

Building a relationship outside the realm of work tasks can help bridge the gap. Consider inviting them to a coffee break, team lunch, or after-work event. The objective isn't to become best friends but to create an environment where both of you can communicate openly and see each other beyond just work roles. A stronger bond can lead to better mutual understanding and can pave the way for more effective feedback conversations.

So turn on your relationship-builder skills, and pretend like you’re an RA in a campus dorm if you have to. Get to know him, and ask a lot of open-ended, curious questions. Share a bit from your personal life and strengthen your relationship.

3. Confront with Constructiveness

It’s crucial to address the elephant in the room but to do so constructively. Instead of focusing on what annoys you about their behavior, shed light on how specific actions impact the team or the project. Use “I” statements to avoid making them defensive. For example:

"John, I feel that when you question every decision in the meetings, it slows down our process. Could we maybe discuss your concerns one-on-one before the team convenes?"

By framing it this way, you're not attacking John's character but addressing a specific behavior and suggesting a solution.

Trying to deal with a cultural misfit at work isn’t easy. But it’s a lot better than doing nothing! It's possible to turn things around with a balanced blend of empathy, relationship-building, and constructive confrontation. Always remember, at one point, that person was hired for a reason, and with the right approach, they can potentially recalibrate and continue to be an asset to the organization

That’s a starting point. What have you found that works? We’d love to hear from you. 


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