They are present in every workplace, from the complainer to the distracting chatterbox, from the gossiper to the bully. But you must learn how to handle difficult coworkers. Leaving an annoying or bad situation to simmer can only cause further escalation and lack of productivity. Eventually, you’ll come to work miserable every day. Here’s how to deal with difficult people in your workplace.
Dealing with Coworkers
When Realizing There’s a Problem
Determine that the source of your irritation or discomfort is really another person, and if it’s that person. Is it actually something at home or in your work that you are taking out on another person’s behavior? If so, then you may need to simply ignore that coworker’s quirks or behavior while you work out what else is bothering you.
Is it actually your coworker’s behavior? Then you need to address it. Move towards fixing the situation early on. Doing so will help keep your emotional state from escalating. Difficult situations left alone may explode later, especially in the middle of a project or a deadline.
You can talk it out with a trusted friend or coworker–anyone who can be a helpful but neutral third party. This lets you explore options in an objective, rational way. Don’t just leave it at complaining or whining, especially to someone who can’t do anything about it or who wants you to do something about it. You’ll quickly become the office complainer, and your situation will likely get worse.
Tips for Speaking to Them
If your coworker’s actions prevent you from getting work done, you will need to address these issues. However, you’ll have to do it wisely so you don’t escalate your situation.
Note that you’ll have to do this in person. You can’t just leave an anonymous letter. This won’t be productive. You also can’t be passive-aggressive like leaving deodorant or body spray on a coworker’s desk as a way to inform them that their hygiene bothers you. This creates extra conflict and will make your overall problem harder to resolve.
First, take the emotion out of speaking to them. Emotion on your part may fluster you or make you say things you’ll regret. Or, just having excess and uncontrolled emotion could escalate the confrontation and make a bad situation worse.
Rehearse what you can say. Not just what you want to say, but how you can and should say it. Rehearsing will also help you stay in control of your discussion.
Use “I” language while talking. Avoid using the word “you” as much as possible, as this can feel attacking or overly defensive. The other person may not know that their behavior is affecting you so much.
Fixing the Problem
Once you’ve begun your discussion, you’ll have to address ways to fix the situation. Set boundaries for what behavior that person can use with you and what makes you uncomfortable. Focus only on the one or two worst behaviors that impact you the most. As you talk, try to come up with positive solutions together. That way, you’re not just berating and complaining at them, but showing that you want to find a solution and keep the work relationship a positive one.
Remember to be friendly and encouraging throughout. Sometimes factors like jealousy, their own personal problems, and others can affect their behavior. You’re not trying to bully them into giving you space or your way; that will also make things worse!
Sadly, some people just don’t care. They may refuse to recognize that they have a problem, consider themselves incapable of change, or decide that you’re too negative/whiny/sensitive. If you run into one of these people, you may need to limit the time you are with them. This might require the intervention of a manager if you sit near them or must work alongside them on a project.
If the problem continues, discuss it with HR or your management.
If you work with a bully, not just an annoying person, you may need to go to HR. This is especially true if you regularly feel intimidated, dread going near that coworker, or if you almost can’t bring yourself to come to work.
This kind of conflict resolution can make your franchise better for all involved! Remember to catch these problems early, and you’ll be fine.