Regardless of the career path you have chosen to pursue, you will likely run into people who will make going to work even more stressful. Learning to work alongside them, or finding a way to be polite while keeping your distance, is the best way to deal with difficult colleagues. Here are some tips.
Part 1 of 3: Reacting to a Difficult Colleague
Step 1. Learn to distinguish the different types of problematic colleagues
There is a wide range of difficult people you may encounter in the workplace. Some of these types are: the hostile colleague, the one who complains constantly, the procrastinator, the "pundit" and the overly complacent colleague.
- The hostile colleague may appear angry or often give the impression of being offended. The best way to handle such a person is to not respond to his anger in the same way. Often these are people who just need to be listened to and appreciated to find relief from their malaise.
- A co-worker who complains all the time can add additional stress to the workplace. In case you meet such a person, listen carefully to their concerns, then offer to help them solve their problems.
- The procrastinator is a colleague who often postpones the time to make a commitment or take the initiative because he is afraid of making mistakes or creating problems for others. The best way to deal with such a person is to get to the cause of his fear and understand what information he needs to make the choice or take the initiative.
- There are two types of "pundits": in the first case it is someone who knows the subject well, but wants to be sure that everyone else knows that he is the "expert"; in the second case it is a person who thinks he knows everything in order to be able to express his opinion at any juncture. As for the true expert, taking the time to ask him a few questions can allow him to exhibit his knowledge, helping to lessen his negative attitude towards others. Those colleagues who, on the other hand, do not know what they think they know are usually reduced if they are calmly confronted face to face about how well prepared they are.
- An overly complacent colleague can become a problem in the workplace. It is a person who often agrees with what was said at the moment, but, later on, gives voice to his thoughts or simply does not honor the commitment made. Making sure such people know they are an important part of the group, regardless of their opinions, will help them build self-confidence.
Step 2. Use humor
Playing down any unpleasant situation using humor can be a great defense mechanism. Sometimes the best way to handle such a situation is to make a joke appropriate to the context, even at your own expense, in order to shift attention.
- Make sure you use it appropriately, avoiding sarcasm and anything that can be offensive.
- Humor is a great way to distinguish the specific negative attitude from the person itself: even if you disagree with their behavior, you can still continue to like the person in question and laugh at it together.
Step 3. Confront your colleague in private
It is not recommended to confront someone who may become violent, but you may be able to discuss some issues privately with other types of difficult colleagues.
- Taking aside a "know-it-all" colleague who doesn't really have a lot of connections and having a friendly conversation about the matter can redefine your working relationship without embarrassing them in front of others. An effective confrontation must take place privately and in a respectful manner.
- For example, you might say, "You obviously have extensive knowledge of the subject under discussion; can we, however, limit ourselves to sharing only essential information? Or it might be a good idea if you send us a summary of what you know about the subject in a manner to give us time to examine it on our own."
Step 4. Choose your battles carefully
Stay away from difficult people in the workplace. Often the best way to deal with them is to try to avoid them. However, if for any reason this is not possible, you must face the situation and evaluate the options available to you, considering what your priorities are at that precise moment.
- For example, if a colleague of yours is a control freak, but that job is absolutely critical to you, you may need to find alternative ways to connect with him while trying to change jobs or jobs.
- Choosing your battles will help you avoid unnecessary stress and not take on your colleagues' problems as if they were your own.
Part 2 of 3: Having a Support Network at Work
Step 1. Take care of yourself
Be aware of the negative impact a difficult colleague can have on you. Ultimately, your responsibility is to take care of yourself and not give in to its manipulations.
Taking the next step - distinguishing the specific behavior from the person itself - can help you focus on the current problem and try to manage it. Don't take it personally because it's often not about you at all, but rather about something about the colleague in question
Step 2. Maintain a support network
When you work with difficult colleagues, it can be helpful to spend time with positive people who can support you and confirm your worth. Find someone you can talk to inside and outside the workplace to vent your frustration. Give yourself some time in a safe environment to calm down after a fight.
When it comes to managing a conflict, it can be helpful to follow the "24 hour rule": it means not reacting on the spot, but taking the time to walk away to seek the necessary support
Step 3. Establish a relationship with the Human Resources Department
For some situations it is necessary to ask for the intervention of this office or the managerial staff, for example in case of threats of violence or for any situation that could create a hostile work environment.
Often within the Human Resources Department you can find employees in charge of directly managing the relationships between work colleagues who will be able to address your concerns in a serious and professional way
Part 3 of 3: Handling Extreme Cases
Step 1. Learn what your rights are in the case of workplace harassment
Working in a safe and harassment-free environment is your fundamental right. In the event that the situation becomes serious, you can take legal steps to end a hostile work environment.
Step 2. Understand how tensions between colleagues in your workplace are handled
As already mentioned, knowing how the Human Resources Office works can help in extreme cases.
Most business environments will involve the use of written procedures including formal complaints
Step 3. Apply to be assigned to other duties
It can be simply moving your desk away from the person in question or changing departments to avoid having to work with them. If the problem gets worse, you may need to consider looking for another job or raising the issue with your boss.
Step 4. Contact your supervisor if the situation is out of control
In this case, you need to make sure that you follow the natural chain of command and that you are not overriding your immediate manager, unless that is the very person you have a problem with.
- Harassment in the workplace can lower job performance, so almost all managers are prone to actively address any problems.
- Talk to your boss with the exact details of the matter. For example, you might start by saying, "I have a problem with …", then explain what you did to try and resolve the matter before you approached him.