How to Deal with Difficult Co-Workers

A great job that you would otherwise be really enjoying can be ruined by difficult colleagues who can make life a misery. Handling difficult co-workers effectively can turn around a toxic environment and can be an opportunity to build your leadership skills.

Here are some ideas that might be useful: 

1. Ask yourself if their behaviour is ultimately just a low-level annoyance which, although mildly irritating, can easily be ignored.

2. Get some honest feedback from trusted advisors about your own behaviour. Are you part of the problem? Are doing anything that you are not aware of that is provoking or exacerbating the behaviour from said difficult colleague(s)?

3. If the behaviour is persistent and has a sufficient level of negative impact on you - or indeed other members of the team - then it is time to have a conversation. Pick a time and a place where you will not be disturbed. It is important that you don’t do this publicly and thus embarrass the person, which will likely provoke a hostile reaction. It may also be unwise to react in the moment and to say something in a state of heightened emotion.

4. Rather than charging in and venting your frustration with them, seek first to understand. Ask the person what is going on with them from a place of genuine interest and compassion. They might be dealing with health, family or other issues, which is affecting their behaviour. Be sure to listen and see things from their perspective. Listen, appreciate and respect what they have to say.

5. Ask them if you can share your view. Come from the frame that you want to express what is going on and what to collaborate in finding a solution that works for all parties. Try to separate the behaviour from the person and let them know from your perspective what the behaviour is, how it makes you feel and what the impact is on you and, perhaps more broadly, the team and its efforts to achieve the business’ objectives.

6. It may be useful to spend more time on looking forward. The person cannot change what has been said and done but they can adjust their behaviour going forward. Try to suggest and agree what that future looks like in terms of their behaviour. Ask for their solutions.

7. See how they are reacting to what you are offering during the conversation and observe if they make any effort to improve the situation. 

8. If there is no improvement or indeed if it gets worse - then be prepared to escalate by discussing the problem with your line manager and/or HR professionals, letting the person know that you will be doing this.

I have heard it said that you get what you tolerate in life and in many ways this is an exercise in establishing boundaries and making it clear what is and is not acceptable.

As ever, we are grateful for any comments, likes and shares.