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How to Deal with a Difficult Coworker

How to Deal with a Difficult Coworker

Posted on October 26th, 2017 by Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C

coworkersFollowing the recent office shooting not too far from Baltimore, many people have been feeling increased nervousness and tension in their offices. Having trouble with a coworker or employer is a common experience; but who wants that to turn into the kind of nightmare that the victims of this attack had to go through?  How can one handle a difficult person at work in a way that leaves everyone feeling safe?

Naturally, there are many different configurations of possible interpersonal networks in various work settings. Let’s look at the relatively straightforward situation of dealing with a single difficult coworker. What can you do to improve your situation and, most importantly, stay safe?  Here are a few tips to help you address the problem.

  • Take a look around you. Do other people find this coworker difficult, or is it just you? If everyone else seems to get along with this person, consider what you may be doing that contributes to the stressful relationship between the two of you.  That’s not to say that your coworker isn’t a problem; they may or may not be. But even if they’re really is difficult, perhaps you can do something differently that might ease the tension.
  • Check in with a friend or colleague. How do they perceive the situation? When your emotions are running high, it’s hard to assess the problem objectively.  Get another perspective can help you sort things through.  Moreover, getting validation from others about the trouble you’re facing can go a long way towards helping you ride it out.  Note: this is not a recommendation to go badmouthing your coworker to everyone else in the office.  Be judicious about what you share and with whom. Whatever the problem is, spreading office rumors gossip is guaranteed to make it worse.
  • Speak with the coworker directly and non-aggressively. It’s always possible they don’t realize what they are doing that’s bothering you, or would be willing to consider changing it even if they do. To avoid coming across as aggressive and attacking, frame your comments as an “I” statement, meaning, share you experience with your coworker rather than telling them what they are doing wrong or calling into question their competence, values, behaviors, etc. So rather than saying, “You are lazy and always procrastinating!” you might say, “It’s really frustrating for me when you show up at the last minute with your part of the project. It adds a lot of stress to my plate.” That is much less likely to be taken as an attack, and therefore less likely to elicit defensiveness in response.
  • Speak to the boss. If you have tried speaking to your coworker directly and things have not improved, it might be time to speak to your superior who can help you handle the difficult situation. Again, it is wise not to attack the other party but simply to explain objectively what is happening and why it is hard for you. Ask what can be done and how you will be notified about it. Often it is wise to document such meetings in writing.

If all your efforts to remedy the work situation fail, you may have to consider your options. Is it worth looking for another job to avoid the problem coworker, or is it better to stay put and put up with the frustration?  Certainly if you are concerned for your safety – if your coworker is harassing you, threatening you, or otherwise giving you reason to feel endangered, take the steps you need to protect yourself, whether that means leaving the job, filing a peace order, or both – or anything else you need to do to keep yourself safe.

Check out the interview with me on Fox45 about this topic:

If you have problems with employee relations at your office, consider bringing in a professional to help sort through the problems and reestablish a safe and comfortable working environment.  And if you don’t have such problems, it’s always a good idea to provide employees with tools to make sure it stays that way. Contact us today to find out more about how we can help.

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