How to deal with difficult co-workers…and what you can learn from them
No matter where you’re currently employed, you likely have to deal with a few difficult co-workers on a regular basis. Whether these people test your nerves by being publicly hostile, gossiping behind your back, or being stubborn and unyielding to new ideas, they’re enough to make you want to quit. But in today’s economy, quitting any job is simply not an option. Therefore, your best bet is to learn not only how to get along with difficult people, but also to learn a few lessons from them.
Realize that no matter how difficult someone seems, working together harmoniously is possible. With a little self-reflection, understanding, and patience, you can get along with anyone. Following are a few suggestions for making difficult co-workers more bearable.
Understand the dynamics of business relationships: Any workplace—from a highly formal and technical environment to a relaxed and close-knit company—ultimately becomes an extended family. That doesn’t mean you have to invite your co-workers over for holiday dinners. It simply means that people tend to extend their personal relationships from their family to their professional relationships. In other words, if someone has a problem with their mother or father, it’s probable they’ll have a problem with their male or female boss. If they’re in a family where siblings are jealous or competitive, or where they’re bullied by each other, that kind of relationship will develop with their co-workers. This phenomenon is called transference—whereby you transfer your personal relationships into the workplace. The best way to overcome this is to focus on your personal life and make it as good as it can be. Mend your personal relationships, talk out problems with parents or siblings, and get your home life in order. By doing this, you’ll be stronger to handle the work relationships and will start transferring your positive personal relationship aspects rather than the negative ones.
Keep your work relationships in perspective: Whatever you do, don’t try to make friends in the workplace. Remember that you’re there to do a job, not to make friends. If you happen to work with someone you like and a friendship develops, that’s fine. But don’t force it or think you have to be friends with all your co-workers. If you can keep this concept in mind, you’ll be able to look at the relationship from a purely professional perspective and keep your emotions out of it. The more you can leave your emotions out of the workplace, the more peace of mind you will have there.
Commit to learning from every relationship: Every difficult person you encounter in the workplace is actually helping you learn something you can use for your future. For example, suppose you have a boss who undermines your efforts or who berates you. You certainly don’t like being treated like that, so you make a mental note that when you’re in a leadership position you’ll never act like that. This is called learning by opposite. When someone is displaying a behaviour you don’t like, you become more aware of what you want to do and who you want to become as you move up in the workplace. Learning by opposite is very powerful. So rather than let the difficult people frustrate you, see them as teachers who are helping to shape you into the person you want to become.
Take responsibility for the relationship: If you’re having a problem with a difficult co-worker, stop and look at your role in the relationship. Are you playing the “two wrongs can make a right” game, where you do something that you know will set the person off just because he or she annoyed you recently? Remember that every relationship is a two-way street, so look at yourself and how you’re contributing to the difficult behaviour. Remove yourself emotionally from the situation and concentrate on your own strengths so you can make the relationship less difficult. If the other person doesn’t change or still blatantly doesn’t like you, that’s okay. Stop caring what others think. The only thing that matters is what you think about the other person. If you don’t like the way you’re thinking about someone, then make some changes in your thinking and internal dialogue. In the end, the only person you can change is yourself.
Accept the relationship: Face it…difficult relationships are a part of the business world. Therefore, don’t look for the elusive perfect workplace. It simply doesn’t exist. The best approach is to accept that people think differently, act differently, and respond to situations differently than you do. Then, do what you can to look at the other side of the fence. Get an understanding of the other person’s point of view or where they’re coming from. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with them or like them. You just have to accept that they have a different way of handling stress or approaching situations. When you can make this mindset shift, you’ll be more patient, understanding, and forgiving of others…and they won’t seem as difficult anymore.
Ditch the Difficulties: Remember, none of your co-workers were hired to please you. Each person was hired because they possess a certain skill and can do a certain job—not because they are friendly or easy to work with. As such, a few difficult ones are bound to be in the mix. So don’t quit your job because of your difficult co-workers or even a difficult boss. Chances are you’ll find the same kinds of difficult people in your new workplace anyway. Instead, work to ease the difficult relationship by focusing on yourself and your own mindset. When you make yourself the focus rather than the difficult co-worker, you diffuse the relationship and become both happier and more productive in all aspects of life.
Jill Cook-Richards is a Life Coach and Counselor. She consults business executives, health care professionals and educators. She is a regular columnist for several magazines and has spoken at all types of companies, corporations, and associations such as Blue Cross, UPS, and the Mayo Clinic. She has also worked in television, radio, and the movie industry. She is the author of the upcoming book “How to Heal Any Relationship from A to Z.” To reach Jill call (904) 396-4060 in the US, or email [email protected].