We’ve all been there. You find a job you like, but you’re faced with a difficult co-worker. It might be that they criticize everyone else’s work Maybe they are a gossip. Or maybe they take out their frustrations with other parts of their life on everyone around them.
Even though these difficult co-workers come in all sorts of packages, dealing with them typically involves the same process.
Take a Breath
The worst thing you can do when someone is being difficult with you on the job is let your emotions get the best of you and to react to them. If you’ve played or watched sports, you know that it’s often the player who reacts badly to another player committing a penalty that ends up in trouble. The same goes in the workplace.
Take a moment to catch your breath and count to five in your head. When you feel threatened, a part of your brain kicks in that is responsible for fight or flight. And while that’s valuable when you’re trying to get away from an angry bear, it’s not so useful in our modern world.
By counting to five, you give the part of your brain that’s responsible for reason to kick in so you can deal with the situation calmly and rationally.
Try to Understand Where They are Coming From
I’m sure most of our parents gave us the advice to try to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. As it turns out, Mom and Dad were right. Oftentimes, someone is dealing with issues outside of work that end up spilling over into how they treat their co-workers. They may have a sick child or are going through a divorce or other difficult family situation.
That doesn’t excuse bad behavior, but it does give it a context. If you know someone is going through a difficult time, try to give them a little more leeway. After the current situation has calmed down, try to talk to them about what’s really bothering them.
Tip: Don’t use this information against them. For instance, you wouldn’t want to say, “I know you’re going through a tough time at home and you’re taking it out on everyone here.” That’s just throwing gas on the fire and rarely goes well.
If you try to deal with the current situation rationally and make no progress, sometimes the best option is to walk away. Make up a phone call or reason to talk to your supervisor.
Remember what we discussed early about the fight or flight part of the brain? That’s exactly where the difficult co-worker is at the moment. Walking away gives them the opportunity to calm down all on their own.
Once you understand where your co-worker is coming from, you can set some boundaries with them. Here’s an example. If someone likes to criticize everyone’s work and they aren’t in a position of authority, you could say to them, “Joe, I get that you want to put out the best work, but it doesn’t help me when you raise your voice at me and are just negative. If you really want me to improve, I’d appreciate it if you took me aside and calmly explain what I’m going wrong. I want to do my best, but the way you’re telling me about it now just upsets me and causes me to make more mistakes.”
Get Us Involved
You should always try to first deal with your difficult co-worker on your own, but if the person is threatening you or bullying you, you should alert us immediately so we can intervene on your behalf.
Dealing with difficult co-workers is a reality in any workplace. Rather than leave a good job, it’s best to try to work the situation out calmly.