Why are some co-workers so immature? What's the best way to handle them?

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Q: I have a co-worker who is very immature. He seems stuck in his past, remembering his childhood perfectly but never talking about his wife or kids. He is constantly throwing fits over nothing. What causes this kind of immaturity and how can I deal with it?

A: Research on adult development consistently proves that maturity is not related to age. In fact, most adults never reach the more advanced stages of human development. To deal with immature adults, you sometimes have to treat them as if they are their shoe size and not their age.

People who are less mature tend to engage in the following habits:

1. Black-and-white thinking with no gray area.

2. Inability to see the world from the perspective of others.

3. Low empathy.

4. Low tolerance for painful emotions.

5. Low tolerance for differences.

6. Lack of insight into themselves and others.

When you are struggling with a co-worker you believe is immature, close your eyes and ask yourself how old you’d picture this co-worker if they didn’t have an adult body. Once you’ve established an age, consider how you would actually treat a child this old.

It can be tempting to talk to your 5-year-old co-worker in a condescending manner because you resent having to change your behavior. However, if your co-worker really were 5, you would probably be patient, clear and set limits without resentment.

When people function at lower levels of adult maturity, they really have not grown up. You might as well be yelling at a co-worker in a wheelchair to get up and walk as yell at an immature co-worker who can’t see your perspective.

Yes, people have the ability to grow up, but if you work with people who haven’t chosen to do so, you can only control how you interact. You can’t force them to hurry up and mature so your life is easier.

Every parent knows that what works best with children is to warn them about consequences, give them choices that encourage good behavior, and without argument apply consequences when kids act badly.

The same strategy works for immature co-workers. Next time your 2-year-old co-worker wants to have a power struggle, forget about changing his oppositional nature. Instead, give him two choices:

1. He can continue arguing and not get anything.

2. He can work together with you or others and get what he wants.

The last word(s)

Q: I find people’s emotional reactions hard to understand. Any tricks for reading people better?

A: Yes, get to know yourself deeply and everyone else will be crystal clear.

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., is an executive coach, trainer, therapist, speaker and author of “Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything” (Hay House, 2006). She can be reached at 1420 N.W. Gilman Blvd., No. 2845, Issaquah, WA 98027-7001; by e-mail at interpersonaledge@comcast.net; or at www.interpersonaledge.com. Sorry, no personal replies. To read other Daneen Skube columns, go to www.seattletimes.com/daneenskube