Career / Leadership

Dealing with Difficult Coworkers

by Team Nuggets
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Published on May 2, 2017

Annoying people are everywhere. The grocery store, the post office, and even your own house. But when those people are your coworkers, you usually find yourself biting your tongue for professional purposes. Whenthat person is your boss, life can become even more unbearable.

Short of walking around with earplugs in your ears, there isn't much you can do to shut out your most difficult coworkers. Sure, you could look for another job, but chances are you'll find equally annoying people there, too. The best thing you can do is learn ways to cope with challenging personalities and work them to your advantage. Here are a few tips for dealing with difficult coworkers.

Think It Through

Before you do anything, you should first assess the situation as thoroughly as possible. Observe the person's behaviors, as well as the reactions of others in the workplace. You may find others in the organization are aware of the person's challenging behaviors and found ways to work around it.

You might be able to identify the person's behavior patterns so that you can better anticipate when he or she will act a certain way. If the coworker becomes cranky when deadlines are looming, for instance, you could offer to help with the person's workload. An offer of help in a stressful time will help endear you to your challenging coworker and maybe even make them into your ally.

Remain Professional

It can be easy for emotions to enter the picture, especially if the behavior is directed specifically at you. If you feel as though a difficult coworker is undermining your efforts orengaging in bullying behavior, it can be tempting to directly confront the person.

However, by rising above it and focusing on the IT work that you do best, you will likely impress your colleagues and superiors with your ability to handle the situation. Observe the way you react to the person and, if possible, ask a trusted coworker for an opinion on any interactions where you felt the person was being difficult.

Asking others for their opinions could be interpreted as gossiping. So be sure you have pure intentions and that you put that advice to work so it doesn't turn into just venting about challenging coworkers. This isn't a reality TV show, people! If you're struggling to walk the line on this one, we suggest you keep names out of your discussions, which shows that you're considerate of others and also helps you build trust.

Discreetly Confront the Issue

Before you confront a difficult coworker on specific behavior, weigh the pros and cons of that approach. You might find that confrontation will solve nothing, especially if the coworker is likely to dismiss your concerns. In addition, your difficult coworker may make a big deal out of the fact that you approached him or her about it, causing even more trouble for you.

However, if you do choose to have a conversation with a difficult coworker, set time aside to discuss things in private and focus the talk on how their behavior makes you feel, rather thanputting them on the defensive by accusing them of things.

There are lots of ways you can approach a discussion with a difficult coworker, but you should always do these five things:

  1. Stay Calm Conflict is an emotional thing. It can be challenging to check your emotions, but this is a moment to flex those poker face skills. Calmness is contagious. If you're calm, your coworker will probably be (or at least become) calm, too.

  2. Ask Questions Most often, conflict arises from poor communication. Asking good questions can help clear up misunderstandings and ensure you're on the same page with your colleague.

  3. Listen Well If you're asking good questions, be prepared to listen well. That means holstering your smartphone, maintaining eye contact, using encouraging responses (i.e., "good point," "interesting," or "I see"). Work hard to hear what your colleague has to say!

  4. Manage Expectations Talk about your expectations of your coworker and theirs of you. Be clear about what is realistic and what expectations belong in fairy tale books. This step can go a long, long way to helping you work together more effectively.

  5. Agree on Next Steps Whatever the outcome of your discussion, don't leave empty-handed. Be sure that you have some tangible next steps to help improve your next interaction. It might be something as simple as agreeing to follow up the discussion with a summary of your conversation in an email, committing to make more timely requests in the future, or working intentionally to improve the tone of your future interactions.

Our friends at TechRepublic offer 10 tips and tactics for dealing with conflict that go a little deeper.

Ask for Help

If you've exhausted all your avenues, don't worry, you're not alone. If your company has an HR department, meet in private with them and discuss your options. You may find that your HR representative thinks that the behavior merits action from the person's supervisor. If you and your difficult coworker have different supervisors, consider discussing the situation with your own boss, especially if it has escalated.

If the difficult person is your supervisor, you may find that any measures you take could put your job at risk. In that case, you'll need to either search for another job or ask to be transferred to a different department if you can't continue in that environment. There could be solace in sharing your frustrations with a fellow worker who also regularly deals with the difficult behavior but make sure they can be trusted before you open up too much.

When people work together in a closed environment, personality clashes are bound to happen. It's important to determine whether that clash is a personal problem or one that gets in the way of doing your job before taking action. When handled the right way, a challenging coworker can present an opportunity to improve your professional reputation and strengthen your people skills!


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