Dealing with difficult people is an art and we spend a majority of our time at work, so this post focuses on work relationships, but can really be used in most relational settings. I hope this helps of you are going through a difficult season with a coworker and no, this is not about my current coworkers. I know they follow my blog and I absolutely love my current position. A lot of that is due to the great people I interact with everyday, but it wasn’t always that way. I have worked in food service, retail, and corporate settings since college and have run into all variations of hard-to-get-along with folks and I wish I would have handled it better than I did.
We have all been there, right? That coworker that’s the one-upper, the gossip, the Negative Nelly it maybe just a plain bully. It can make or break a position that you may really love and I’m hoping some of these tips may help if you are facing this situation now.
Be assertive but polite and use inclusive language.
This might look like someone who constantly challenges you in meetings or is trying to make you look bad in order to make themselves look better. I would say something after the meeting with just the two of you such as “I have noticed that you have been bringing my mistakes to the attention of everyone in the last few meetings. Should you have any other suggestions or concerns on my work, I would really appreciate you bringing them to me before discussing them in the meetings. I really love working here and want us to have a good working relationship that fosters teamwork to make our projects a success.” Sometimes just calling them out on their behavior is enough to make it stop and they can’t really argue that they want to make the working environment miserable for everyone.
If it doesn’t stop, notify a manger.
Be empathetic to that person.
Why might they be acting that way? Have a coworker who won’t stop talking and it’s eating into your work time? They might just be lonely or have no one else to talk to in their lives. I would say something like “I would love to talk more about this later but I really have to get these documents done by 11 today. Maybe I can take a break around 1 and you can tell me more.” This lets them know you aren’t being a jerk, but just need to get some stuff done. It will also remind them to respect your work time as such, to work, but that you still care enough to pick up the conversation later for a set period of time. We can also work on separating the person from the action. Let’s label the action as “difficult” rather than the entire person.
Stay calm and rational.
Have you ever been in one of those cringe-worthy meetings where the conversation gets heated and you just want to crawl under the table? I have and it’s the worst. But I will never forget how one of my all-time favorite managers handled the situation when her team was, in all honesty, being attacked in their methods and how she was managing her team. She stayed cool, calm and collected throughout the meeting and presented the facts that’s couldn’t be discounted. She also didn’t back down, but did it respectfully. In the end, the one who was all hot and bothered looked foolish and my manger was the voice of reason, and I was in awe. Sometimes we just have to be the bigger person, even if we are sweating on the inside.
Don’t enable the bad behavior.
Bad behavior should be addressed as soon as possible with that person. If it continues, then move up the management chain until something changes. Document everything should you need it in the future. If all else fails, limit communication with the individual to the degree you feel necessary. If it’s something that can not be ignored, a one on one meeting with a mediator may be necessary. It’s best to get it out on the table in a controlled, professional manner than letting it fester it get out of control. It can also bring light to the situation or behavior. I avoid conflict like the plague but know from experience that it’s better to have an uncomfortable 30 minute conversation rather than a year of avoidance and misery.
We can not change other people’s behavior; that’s up to them. Sometimes we need to look inside and think about what part we are playing in the problem. The thing is, we are the ones carrying around that stress, not them. We can either change how we deal/react to that person or we can just let it go. Sometimes people are just not nice or have issues with anger or jealousy. That’s on them and it’s not a reflection on you. Focus on killing it with your professionalism and incredible work ethic. People with serious issues will usually show their colors eventually and it will catch up with them. You just do you.
My heart goes out to you if you are dealing with a difficult work situation. I hope this was helpful for you in dealing with minor annoyances. Please understand that abuse, in any form, at a workplace or otherwise, should never be tolerated. Please go to your manager or the highest level you need to in order to record and stop any inappropriate behavior.