Professional relationships are complex and delicate matters. While many may blossom into beautiful friendships that enhance effective collaboration, some are not quite so rosy. Any individual who has been an active professional for a prolonged time will tell you that the people you work with can make or break your work experience.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Workplace Differences and Difficult Co-Workers
Naturally, some tensions may arise from time to time if there are differences in opinions. In fact, disagreements have the potential to be highly constructive when they’re handled appropriately and compassionately. As much as possible, strive to minimize unnecessary conflict in the workplace by working together to reach win-win solutions.
Dealing with a difficult or annoying coworker can be immensely frustrating. It’s exhausting to constantly feel like you must censor yourself or temper your emotions to cater to their reactivity or moods. Yet, even if it isn’t always easy, you know you need to be the bigger person.
Best Tips of How to Deal with a Difficult Co-Worker
We’re here to reassure you that you’re not alone. In almost every workplace, there are challenges on teams.
Several effective coping mechanisms will help alleviate the exasperation of working with a problematic individual. Here are a few ways to handle coworkers that can make the workplace unpleasant.
This response is an excellent springboard to resolution and an opening to a productive conversation when dealing with annoying individuals. When you can show compassion, true compassion, the greater part of your gripping anger (or theirs) and annoyance will simply melt away. You’ll be more accepting of their unique context, perspective, and attitudes, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them.
Know What Triggers You
Gain self-awareness of the specifics of what ignites your frustration. When we’re aware of our part in a troubling pattern, this is an excellent way to work through feelings and regulate ourselves. If you know there are specific and nonessential conversations that inevitably end in a headlock of disagreement, then the pattern is worth taking a deeper look at. Perhaps it would be appropriate to engage your supervisor or an emotionally intelligent leader to assist you.
Rehashing the same infuriating scenarios is not going to help anyone. Spare both yourself and those around you from unnecessary tension by managing your reactions to—or solving—triggering scenarios.
Take Space and Time
One of the most productive things that you can do when managing a relationship with a difficult coworker is to be proactive about self-care by taking space and time away from them when needed. If you’re upset, self-calm. The less you cross paths when you’re annoyed, the less opportunity there is for friction.
Similarly, taking a day or two to think over something helps you construct a rational and calm approach to handle issues more effectively. Avoiding problems solves nothing.
Who knows, perhaps after taking some time to cool down, you will realize a mutual solution or a more creative way to handle the conflict.
Remain Optimistic and Empathetic
Focusing on the positive side of their personality and excellent job performance increases the potential of maintaining a civil relationship.
And if you’re willing to try and understand their perspective, you will be more inclined to act compassionately and professionally. A little empathy and optimism go a long way when it comes to safeguarding your sanity in a challenging professional relationship.
Self-awareness is of paramount importance whenever you are trying to manage challenging relationships. Although you may feel convinced that the other person is wrong, steer clear of projecting this conviction onto interactions. There will be moments where your personal hang-ups might get triggered, and the other person is actually being fair and reasonable. Be honest with yourself and make an effort to see your coworker’s perspective.
Gossip is destructive and unkind. If anything, gossiping about an individual with your colleagues only serves as a virus in the workplace and can damage your reputation as you may come off as snarky and ill-tempered.
If you’re faced with legitimate frustrations, try to resolve them honestly and effectively—gossiping is neither of these things.
Speak to a Supervisor
Suppose you feel a scenario is particularly unjust and actively detrimental to professional productivity. In that case, you are well within your right to present the matter to management or human resources. In fact, it might not even be your place to bring it up with the colleague in question.
If you were to overstep with a colleague inappropriately, it could call your own credibility and professionalism into question. A supervisor may be better equipped to resolve a dispute in a fair, constructive, and effective way.
Be Intentional About Your Communication
Although it may sound like a mantra, you would repeat to a child, remember that words are powerful. How you choose to communicate with your difficult colleague could either remedy your tension or exacerbate it.
When raising a point of concern, do not make it a personal issue. Maintain a neutral and respectfully assertive tone to indicate that, while your feelings and frustrations are valid, you are receptive to communication and compromise.
Related reading: "The Consequences of a Lack of Communication in the Workplace."
Overcome a Fear of Confrontation
Many individuals avoid conflict and confrontation at all costs. This avoidance may stem from several issues. Perhaps you don’t want to come off as aggressive or controlling for fear of being disliked by that particular individual or your greater professional circle. Or you’re afraid of their reaction. Nonetheless, there is a cost to avoidance, too.
When faced with a confrontation, albeit relatively neutral and respectful, your emotions might get the better of you, thus preventing possible compromises.
Confrontation does not need to be dramatic or ugly. It can be profoundly healing and productive. Learning to take part in conversations in a calm, respectful, rational, and empathetic manner will work wonders for conflict resolution in the workplace.
When all else fails, a good old-fashioned team-building exercise might just be the solution.
Team-building exercises typically consist of fun problem-solving activities. The collaboration required to perform or complete this activity is symbolic of the harmony that you ultimately want to cultivate in the workspace.
A day of team-building activities is the perfect opportunity to get to know your difficult coworker in a more relaxed environment. When the pressure of professional performance is eliminated, you might even find that you work together well and have things in common.
Naturally, this is the best-case scenario. The most likely outcome is that everyone has the opportunity to showcase their positive traits in a manner that invites deeper compassion and understanding. And the exercises can invoke insights that will be helpful to grow self-awareness and strengthen strained relationships.
It’s unfortunate when a difficult coworker negatively affects a great workplace culture. So, it’s up to you to learn how to handle them effectively and hold them accountable to be better, reducing a negative impact.
Use these tips to address the situation and change what can otherwise be an uncomfortable and upsetting status quo.