It seems to be that everyone has that one coworker that they can’t seem to get along with, but here are a few tips to help you along the path of dealing with a difficult coworker.
We’ve all worked with someone who makes us roll our eyes, cringe when we see their name in our inbox, or dread an upcoming meeting. A difficult co-worker can be unavoidable, but we can gain new perspective on how to work with them.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from coaching hundreds to people through job changes, is that difficult coworkers can undermine your career trajectory as well as job satisfaction. Should you find yourself in this situation, here are five tips to make sure you’ve done all you can to turn these negative workplace interactions into productive and positive ones.
Look for root causes. When working with a difficult colleague, we tend to let our negative emotions cloud our ability to make clear observations. This can be compounded if we find ourselves surrounded by others that are quick to offer their own assessment of the person or explanations for the friction between you. Resist the urge to jump to conclusions about what is driving the negative behavior. Spend time learning as much as you can about the life experiences and background of the difficult colleague. If you can engage in a firsthand discussion, that is preferred. But you can learn a lot, even from a distance, if you are paying attention without the chatter of preconceived opinions running through your head. Observe the behavior and question the assumptions you’ve made about it. Behaviors that were previously interpreted as a desire to outsmart everyone, may be masking a fear of being exposed or caught unprepared. Be on the lookout for these kinds of discoveries and shifts in perspective.
Deal with the truth. The people we like, like us in part, because we like them. But guess what? Yep, you guessed it; the people we don’t like, dislike us because we dislike them. It’s impossible to identify who started the cycle between you and your difficult coworker, but you may be able to turn it around. It’s not easy to like someone that is already annoying you and probably doesn’t like you either, but you can try to deal with your true feelings and attempt to shift from a negative disposition to a neutral one. Getting to neutral is your only hope at turning the relationship around. If you continue to dislike them, no amount of taking the high road or being cordial will change the dynamics of your relationship. What is true can go unspoken, but people still feel it.
Forgive yourself. Being kind to yourself and forgiving your own mistakes will make you much more forgiving of the accidental, and even deliberate, offenses that will come up in life and in the workplace. When you can forgive yourself for your previous stupid and/or selfish behavior, you can forgive others when they make the same mistakes. It’s a win/win really, but we often hold on to our shame and internal punishment because we think it’s the right thing to do. We want to take responsibility and don’t want to let ourselves off the hook. Yet by punishing yourself, you never heal and are more likely to hold others to an unforgiving and rigid standard. Let it go and you will be a better coworker.
Explore similarities. Sometimes, these difficult coworkers are put into our lives to show us something about ourselves. Be glad this has happened because it’s an opportunity to grow emotionally. What is it about them that bothers you? Is it something you see in yourself? Often times, it is. Spend time exploring this question with an open-heart. If you feel very strongly that there is nothing about this person that reminds you of yourself then you are probably wrong. Strong emotions at the mere suggestion of similarity is a good indicator that you should spend more time exploring this point.
Question the culture. I saved this one for last because it’s important to do your own work before blaming the company for your coworker’s bad behavior. But there are times when the company’s culture is to blame for an environment that’s less than collaborative and potentially unkind. Consider what rules and norms in your company have contributed to your coworker’s behavior and question whether it is a place you want to stay long term. If the culture is to blame for creating, empowering, or inflaming your coworker’s hostility, you will continue to run into this issue whether this coworker is there or not. It might be time to make a change.
Kourtney Whitehead has focused her career on helping people reach their work goals, from executive searches to counseling to career transitions, through her positions at top executive recruiting firms and consulting companies. Her new book, Working Whole, (CLICK HERE to get your copy)shares how to unite spiritual and work life. Learn more at SimplyService.org.
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