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Difficult co-worker survival

Difficult co-worker: A survival guide

Almost everyone has had to work with a difficult co-worker at some point in their career. Knowing how to deal with this kind of colleagues is an important life skill. 

A difficult co-worker can undermine your career trajectory, productivity as well as your job satisfaction. Having to deal and daily collaborate with less-than-collegial behavior can be both infuriating and mentally exhausting. Sometimes, a difficult co-worker even turns into a bully, and that can affect your job performance and self-esteem when all you want is to get the job done.

Learning how to deal with difficult people at work and manage conflicts can help you maintain a more harmonious work environment. And as you learn to accept or confront their behaviors, you can begin to focus on your work and the things that you enjoy most about it.

Should you find yourself in this situation, here are six ways to make sure you’ve done all you can to turn these negative workplace interactions into positive and productive ones.

How to survive a difficult co-worker

  1. Speak up and voice your thoughts

If a co-worker is making your work life difficult, it may be time to confront the situation. Talk to this person about how you feel. And make sure you share your feelings, using “I” language so that he or she better understands your perspective. Using “you” language may make it difficult for your colleague to accept responsibility for his/hers actions. For example, try saying “I feel upset when you talk to me like that” instead of “you always make me feel bad” or say “I find that your behavior makes it hard for me to focus” instead of “the way you act is irritating.”

  1. Get to know their perspective

Resist the urge to jump to conclusions about what is driving your co-workers’ negative behavior. Sometimes getting to know their perspective can make it easier to get along with them. To do this, it is preferable that you engage in one-on-one discussion. After getting to know them better, you may realize that their background and life experiences shape their behavior. This insight may help you understand the way they see things and confront them more effectively.

  1. Limit your interactions

Limiting the amount of time you spend with this kind of co-workers can help you stay calm and cope with the situation. You may find that you can handle them in small doses. At lunch or during meetings, stay by co-workers who you find kind and uplifting. However, when limiting your interactions, make it subtle to be mindful of their feelings.

  1. Stay neutral at work

If other co-workers are talking about this person, keep your opinions to yourself and don’t get involved in chit-chat. Remaining neutral is how you can help maintain a positive work environment for everyone. If you need to talk about this person, save it for a friend or your family who is not connected to your work. Save your energy at work for discussing positive things about others.

  1. Talk to your supervisor

When a co-worker is negatively impacting your work and does not have a collaborative spirit, it may be time to bring up the issue to your supervisor or human resources department. Document this co-worker’s adverse behaviors so you have proof of what they have been doing. Your supervisor or human resources department is supposed to find ways to resolve this conflict and make you feel safe and respected at work.

  1. Focus on the positive

Though it may not be easy to ignore this co-worker’s behavior, direct your attention to what you love about your job. This may be your other co-workers, the actual work you do or your job’s benefits. Being grateful for the good things in your life can make this challenging part seem smaller.


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