In every office, there’ll be at least one person you can’t stand. They’ll disagree with everything you say, talk behind your back, and perhaps even go as far as to sabotage you. Learning how to deal with those difficult coworkers is a skill that’ll serve you well in your professional life.
Usually, with the right approach, you can turn difficult work relationships into productive ones. In this article, we’ll go over four tips to help you handle abrasive coworkers more effectively.
Let’s get to it!
Why Conflict Management Skills Are Crucial to Your Professional Life
Unless you’re extremely lucky, there’ll always be at least one person at your job that’s difficult to deal with. Even if there isn’t, at some point you may clash with a coworker you like due to professional differences or problems with a specific project.
Knowing how to navigate these conflicts without escalating the situation and painting yourself in a bad light is key. This skill can make for a less stressful workplace and show your superiors that you have the ability to problem-solve and be a team player.
If you’re constantly at odds with one or more difficult coworkers, your boss may start to see you as part of the problem. Quickly diffusing tense situations is vital for your career’s long-term trajectory, and conflict management skills can help with that.
How to Deal With Difficult Coworkers (4 Key Tips)
There are a lot of ways you can deal with difficult people, but not all of them are appropriate for a workplace environment. Next time you find yourself nose to nose with a coworker, try utilizing one of these four tips.
1. Keep Your Cool and Stay Civil
When it comes to office conflicts, you never want to be the person caught yelling at someone else in public. Even if it doesn’t get that far, breaking your professional demeanor can cause you to say or do things you regret. Plus, being quick to anger is an excellent way to lose your coworkers’ respect and trust.
When it comes to dealing with difficult coworkers, you need to be the bigger person. They may not remain on their best behavior, but you need to keep your responses appropriate to your locale. That’s easier said than done of course, but there are several ways you can work on your self-control, such as:
- Adopting a ‘responding vs. reacting’ mentality. Instead of reacting instinctively to insults or accusations, you should seek to dismantle unsubstantiated claims altogether.
- Using breathing exercises or meditation to calm down. A few deep breaths in tense situations can be enough to help you slow down and think through your next move. Likewise, meditation can help you get a handle on your emotions.
When we see two people arguing, we’re usually inclined to take the side of the calmest party. Even if your coworkers have valid reasons to get angry at you, keeping your cool can still work in your favor.
2. Focus on the Things You Agree On
One of the best ways to get difficult coworkers over to your side is to make them pay attention to the things you have in common or points you agree on. If they don’t see you as being totally against them, they may be less inclined to stir up conflict with you.
Let’s say, for example, you’re in the middle of a presentation and a coworker keeps interrupting you with unwarranted criticism. Getting angry or flustered won’t do anything to further your point or salvage your work.
Turning the tables by agreeing with some of their points, drawing attention to parts of your presentation you agree on, and asking for their suggestions is a much smarter approach. This move fulfills two purposes:
- You establish you have common ground and are on the same ‘side’.
- You ask them for their input, which shows you value their opinions.
Plus, there’s always a chance their feedback could prove valuable. Even if they’re annoying and you don’t generally get along, your coworker could still have useful insights.
On the other hand, sometimes you may be in a position where you have to provide feedback to a difficult coworker. In those cases, we recommend you lead with a positive.
As some say, honey catches more flies than vinegar. Highlighting something your coworker has done well can soften the blow when you have to deliver harsher criticism.
3. Keep Digital Records of Your Communications when Possible
So far, we’ve talked about ways to diffuse tension in the workplace. In some cases, however, you may end up dealing with difficult coworkers who won’t see reason.
If you find yourself in a situation where you’re facing harassment or keep clashing repeatedly with a coworker, you need to start planning ahead. In a twenty-first-century office, that means keeping digital records of your exchanges.
Your best allies, in this case, are email and screenshots. If someone is sending abusive messages, don’t trash them. Keep them saved in a folder so you have evidence if you need to make a case to your company’s Human Resources (HR) department.
Taking screenshots can come in handy for communications on services such as Slack or other platforms you use to coordinate tasks. Beyond those scenarios, it can also pay off to take notes of any instances of verbal abuse. Include what happened, when, and if there were any witnesses.
If the situation doesn’t de-escalate at some point, you may need to take the issue up with a superior. Having a record that you’re not the party at fault will play to your advantage.
As a rule of thumb, we only recommend bringing a third party into the conflict as a last resort. Before things get to that point, it’s important to make a final attempt to confront your coworker.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Confront Coworkers When Necessary
In some cases, the only way to deal with difficult coworkers is to confront them. Some people won’t back down unless you make it very clear they’re behaving unprofessionally and you won’t put up with it.
Confronting someone in the office doesn’t mean physical escalation or yelling in their faces. The best way to approach this is to have a private conversation, where you focus on any or all of the following:
- Why their behavior is making you uncomfortable
- How you’d like your work relationship to proceed going forward
- Explaining that you’re unwilling to tolerate verbal abuse or unprofessional behavior
Most people are somewhat afraid of confrontation. In many cases, we’d rather put up with uncomfortable situations that make a fuss. However, sometimes a direct approach the only way to get your point across.
Workplace confrontation can also arise if you need to have a discussion about performance in the office. If you’re reviewing a coworker, they may be on the defensive due to feelings of insecurity. Try framing the discussion in a positive light, as we mentioned earlier.
In any of these scenarios, keeping your cool is important. It increases the chances of the confrontation ending positively. That way, you won’t need to take things to the next step of involving a superior or HR.
Unless you run a one-person business, you’ll end up dealing with difficult coworkers at some point. Knowing how to handle them will help you defuse a lot of tense situations and make for a less stressful work environment.
Here are four tips to help you deal with a coworker who’s making your work-life miserable:
- Keep your cool and stay civil.
- Focus on the things you agree on.
- Keep digital records of your communications when possible.
- Don’t be afraid to confront them when necessary.
Do you have any questions about how to deal with difficult coworkers? Let us know in the comments section below!
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