Having difficult coworkers can be an every-single-workday bummer. Wouldn’t it be nice if you only worked with people you like? However, this isn’t the case for most people. No matter how much you love what you do, this doesn’t mean that all of your colleagues are a pleasure to work with.
Almost everyone has worked with difficult coworkers that seem to never fail to push your emotional response button. Psychologists Alan A. Cavaiola, Ph.D., and Neil J. Lavender, Ph.D., conducted a great deal of research for their book entitled Toxic Coworkers: How to Deal with Dysfunctional People on the Job. They surveyed more than 1,100 employees and discovered that approximately 80% experienced moderate to severe stress due to working with difficult coworkers, subordinates, or managers.
Even if you’ve branded someone as “difficult” or “unpleasant” to work with, having the ability to work with anyone is a skill every professional needs to learn.
Successful people understand that you don’t have to like someone to do good work together. What’s important is that you develop effective strategies for dealing with difficult people in the workplace. Listed below are seven tips to keep in mind.
1. Examine your own behavior and history.
Before you allow annoyance to get the better of you, it will help to examine your internal signals and responses. Think about how you respond to the people around you. Do you notice a pattern in how you interact with other people? Are you aware of personal hot buttons that are easily triggered?
Sometimes, when a person ticks you off, it’s because they remind you of someone you dislike in other areas of your life, such as a controlling ex or a bossy friend. It’s easier to get past negative feelings if you realize that it’s the reminder — and not your coworker — you can’t stand.
2. Make multiple attempts to understand difficult coworkers.
In addition to examining your behavior, it also helps to understand the other person’s thoughts, reactions, and emotions. Give difficult coworkers the benefit of the doubt and acknowledge that there might be a reason why they’re acting that way.
For example, an irritable coworker might be going through a terrible divorce, or maybe feels that management passed him or her over for a well-deserved promotion. The point is that putting yourself in another person’s shoes lets you see where they are coming from. This often makes it much easier to keep your emotions in line should you need to confront the other person.
3. Make a commitment to be the bigger person.
Once again, you don’t have to like someone to work together. You do, however, need to remain polite and professional. Do your job well. Help other people. This includes difficult coworkers you’re struggling to appreciate. Take brief, not-really-needed restroom breaks to help you cool down. Do some walking and thinking. Rise above your emotions and avoid responding to pettiness and bad behavior.
4. Don’t gossip about people at all, especially those you don’t like.
As tempting as it might be, never, ever gossip about people. This is a workplace poison you don’t want in your system, especially when it’s aimed at people you dislike. It’s can become so easy to criticize how your difficult coworkers look, talk, work, or even chew food. Stop long enough to ask yourself what good these sorts of remarks offer. Then ask yourself how gossiping reflects on your character and professionalism.
Gossiping about your coworker will not improve your relationship. It might even sabotage your reputation in the workplace. Being a bigger person means avoiding gossip and treating everybody with respect, including the coworkers you dislike.
5. Communicate clearly when seeking to address your issues.
The best way to end workplace conflict is to communicate. Chances are, difficult coworkers might be unaware that they are doing something that you find upsetting. Before you engage, always be sure to phrase your concerns carefully to avoid being harsh or hurtful.
For instance, let’s say your annoying coworker is always completing tasks at the very last minute. You could try saying something such as, “I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but leaving tasks unfinished up to the last minute makes it more difficult for us to meet our deadlines. Is there anything I can do to help so you can start work earlier?” While this person may have a bad habit of procrastinating, it’s also possible that he or she is having trouble with the task and would love your input.
6. Ask your manager or HR for coping strategies.
When all else fails, bring the issue up to your immediate supervisor or a human resources representative. This is especially important if the person starts to break company policies or negatively impact the overall work environment. If that’s the case, be ready to provide proof of your coworker’s behavior. Higher-ups should be keen to resolve conflict and maintain a positive work environment for everyone.
7. Remain calm.
Keeping calm in the midst of chaos is a learnable skill. It takes both presence of mind and focus to remain calm during a workplace conflict but it’s critically important to maintain your professionalism throughout. When dealing with difficult coworkers, it’s easy to get upset and lash out. Anyone can do that! However, staying calm and maintaining your composure makes you appear professional and collected regardless of what your internal monologue looks like.
Keeping Things Polite and Professional
Nobody likes working with difficult coworkers but sometimes these situations exist beyond our ability to control. If you’ve run through all of the tips provided above and still feel no relief, ask yourself some pointed questions about the bottom-line dollar value of your position measured against the dollar/time/inner peace value of your sanity. Seasoned professionals know that it’s important for your reputation and career to never allow personal issues to affect your credibility and professionalism.