​How to Deal with a Difficult Colleague

Workplaces consist of different people with a wide range of personalities. Sometimes these personalities jive well together, and other times, they clash. A conflict between colleagues is natural and inevitable, but the problem can be compounded when you’re dealing with a difficult coworker. While you can’t change a person’s attitude, you can always change how you interact with that person.

Of course, successfully dealing with a problematic coworker can be tricky, especially if you despise confrontation. The level of difficulty you have to face will depend on your own level of self-confidence and professional courage, but it does help if you know the method behind the magic. Use the following strategies to equip yourself with the skills needed to navigate the horrible attitudes of a problematic co-employee.

Stay calm and collected

You don’t want to show difficult people that you are intimidated by their behavior. Unless you’re sure that verbalizing your feelings is the only way to make them see your point, it’s better to assume a calm demeanor and keep your emotions in check. A calm person appears more respectable and in control, and when another person sees that you can remain calm despite their misconduct, you can get their undivided attention and possibly their respect, too.

Avoid getting drawn in

The most important thing to keep in mind when dealing with a difficult colleague is that you must prevent yourself from getting drawn into their negativity, as they have a tendency to bring others down. Let the person know where you are coming from, but don’t argue with their point of view. Don’t rush into proposing solutions, because difficult people are often so caught up with their negativity in that they are not used to looking for solutions to resolve an issue, and are likely to take offense at people offering them.

Adopt a positive attitude

Instead of letting your coworker’s negativity get to you, why not infect him/her with your positivity? Defusing conflict becomes easier when you uphold an optimistic and confident mindset. Believe that your workplace issue can be resolved by accommodating your difficult coworker and reaching a compromise that results in a favorable resolution where all parties win. Have faith that eventually, you can learn to work with each other peacefully, if not altogether collaboratively.

Understand the person’s intentions

Sometimes, people display lousy behavior over and over because they feel people are not listening to them. Listen to your coworker’s grievances until they feel heard out. Listen attentively. Ask questions and clarifications to truly learn why he or she is acting in a negative manner. Find out how you can resolve his or her needs. Do this before taking the issue to management. Express your desire to work together and create harmony with your team.

Take notes

In case the person’s complaints can’t be resolved immediately, take notes of the issues and make a plan to address them. Approach the problems not in an interpersonal sense, but as workplace distractions that hamper your focus, efficiency, and productivity. It can also help if you write down the difficult behavior/s that bother you. Include specific situations and examples. Then determine which you can ignore and which you want to change. Afterwards, you can decide on the positive outcomes that you would like to achieve and craft a plan for realizing them.

Consult with other co-workers

A problematic coworker can make not just you, but the entire workplace miserable. Talk to other employees who might have bad experiences with the same person. Seek them out, share your experiences, listen to what they have to say, and decide with them how best to move forward. Sometimes, a group approach is needed to convince higher-ups that the situation may be more severe than they initially imagined. Make sure to proceed with caution, because you don’t want to appear as bullies ganging up on a colleague.

Learn to anticipate

For many who have successfully worked with a difficult coworker, the process often requires developing a sixth sense for predicting when trouble is likely to happen and having a plan in place to avoid or at least mitigate it. Make sure you are well-prepared with the proper response to any objection or adverse reaction from the employee, and that you have the tact, endurance, and perceptiveness to stay the course until you achieve your desired outcomes.

Build rapport

Building a relationship with a difficult colleague can be a tall order, but if it means a positive and healthy workplace, it can be worth the effort. Try connecting with your colleague on a more personal level—invite him/her with you during breaks, go out with them for meals, etc. Get to know more about them, their interests, their family, and their lives. A little positivity and empathy can go a long way in your work. Find something to appreciate in that person, and remember that there can be more to a person than meets the eye.

Act on what can be acted upon

Sometimes, the only solution to the negative situation is to move on from it. Rather than exhausting your energy on what you cannot change, focus on actionable steps that you can take to overcome not just your difficult colleague, but your own personal negative emotions as well.

Let go

After trying all the tips above and you remain unable to resolve the conflict between you and your coworker, the best solution—for both your career and sanity—is avoidance. Choose to work in projects that he or she is not involved in. Get on with your work and interact with the person only when absolutely necessary. If all else fails, looking into other career opportunities with another department—or perhaps another company—is always an option. Before you do, make sure you give adequate notice and leave your job in a professional manner.

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