If you’ve never had to work with a difficult co-worker, you’re lucky. Because most of us find ourselves, at some point in our careers, dealing with a fellow employee who is hard to get along with. The person may criticize your work or put you down, compete with you for power or privilege, gloat about your boss’s favoritism towards them or just generally make you feel as if you need to watch your back. But have no fear: learning how to handle difficult people is valuable skill! It will help you grow in your career and become a stronger person in general. Here’s what you need to know when adversity rears its head in your workplace.
Five ways to deal with difficult co-workers
You can do this—after all, you’re smart, self-confident and great at your job. The key to remember when dealing with co-workers who try your patience is that you must do something; ignoring the issue will not make it go away. It usually only makes it worse. And the best thing to do is to be as direct and constructive as possible. Just follow these five steps toward setting yourself free from a difficult situation at work:
- First things first: think about your own behavior. This is a tough conversation to have with yourself, but it’s important: when you think about the situation you’re having at work, are you 100 percent sure it’s because of your co-worker and not due to something you’re doing? Sure, you may notice your co-worker disagreeing with you a lot. But, for example, are you resentful because she was recently promoted and you weren’t, so you have a tendency to act grumpy around her? Before you take steps to handle a difficult person at work, it’s best to be sure the difficulty isn’t stemming from your own behavior.
- Talk to the person 1:1. Calling your co-worker out publicly will put her on the defensive. So make some time to talk to her in private. When you do, don’t point fingers, which can also make a person feel backed into a corner. Simply state what you’ve noticed, how it makes you feel and how you would like the situation to change. For example, “I’ve noticed you criticize my work [and give a specific example of a time when this recently happened]. It makes me feel bad. I value your opinion and want my work to be the best it can be, so I’m hoping next time you have feedback, you’ll be more careful to keep it constructive.”
- Follow up if it happens again. Hopefully your co-worker will get better after you chat, but sometimes old habits die hard. If the behavior happens again, as soon as it happens, bring it to the person’s attention by talking again 1:1. Be specific about what happened, how it made you feel and how you’d like the person to change their behavior.
- Go to your boss. If speaking to your co-worker doesn’t resolve this issue, it’s time to escalate the situation and go to your boss. Explain what has been happening, with specific examples (and dates, if you can), how the behavior makes you feel and how you would change the situation if you could.
- Get away from the difficult co-worker. The last step in solving a problem with a difficult co-worker is to distance yourself from the person. This is the last step if you’ve been assertive and then talked to you boss, but the situation is still unresolved. You might consider transferring to a different role within your team or different department within your company. If this still doesn’t help, you might decide it’s time to leave your job for a new one. It’s important for you to be happy and productive to be successful in your career, and sometimes it takes a new position to make this happen.
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