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How To Deal With Difficult Colleagues

Workplace Productivity

Tricky co-workers can have a dramatic impact on our experience at work. Here’s how to address the issue of difficult colleagues head-on to create a more positive work environment for yourself.

When a combination of people with different backgrounds, life experiences and personalities are thrown together in a workplace, it’s logical that relationships between people are not always going to be plain sailing. If there are colleagues you find particularly difficult to work with, it’s important to identify why this is the case. Looking beyond why you find someone difficult or annoying can help you work out the best way of dealing with them.

Here are our tips on how to deal with difficult colleagues:

Challenging Communicators

One of the most common reasons for people not getting on in the workplace is a difference in communication styles. You may have a colleague who becomes easily frustrated or aggravated, causing them to speak to you in a manner you find rude. Whenever you’re speaking to someone who makes you feel like this, remain calm and focus on the subject matter at hand. Ask them to clarify what they mean or tell them your understanding of what they have said. Focusing on facts rather than emotions can help keep both parties composed.

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Dealing with Passive-aggressive Attitude

Sometimes a colleague can make you feel negative or unappreciated in a subtler way. Passive-aggressive behaviour can include indirect insults, surly behaviour or deliberate failure to complete work that has a knock-on effect on your own work. Due to the subtle nature of their behaviour, confronting them often leads to them saying you have misinterpreted them. The savviest way to deal with passive-aggressive behaviour is to try to understand why a person is behaving in this way and to try to build a positive relationship with the person. Being kind, communicative and non-threatening can help people like this feel more relaxed.

Addressing Micro-managers

If you feel a colleague is micro-managing your work, this is something you can address directly with them. Establishing a way of communicating that works well for both of you is the key to them loosening their need for control. For projects or pieces of work, agree on a timeline for delivery and times when you’ll need to check in with each other on progress. If this is already agreed up-front, they’ll have less reason to micro-manage your work in the meantime. If this still doesn’t work, it doesn’t hurt to say something direct but constructive, such as: “I feel you need to check my work quite frequently – is there anything I can do to put your mind at ease?”

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Confronting Bullies

Sometimes bullying behaviour does happen in the workplace, and it’s important to identify and deal with it. Bullying can include anything that makes you feel intimidated, inferior or humiliated. Sometimes people don’t realise how their behaviour comes across, so give colleagues an opportunity to amend their behaviour first. Have a quiet conversation with the colleague in question and let them know how their behaviour has made you feel, while remaining professional and unemotional. If their behaviour still doesn’t change after this, you should seek support and advice from your line manager or HR.

Dealing with Annoying Habits

Difficulties with colleagues can arise from their behaviours that are simply the opposite to the way you naturally behave. Depending on the specific behaviour, find a way of dealing with it that is fair and makes you feel better. For example, if a co-worker habitually takes the credit for work they haven’t contributed to, start to mention who is responsible for what in a project during meetings and in email correspondence. When a project eventually ends, there will be greater awareness among the team about who has actually worked on it. If a colleague has a habit of interrupting you while you’re speaking, be ready with a few key phrases to stop them, such as: “Please let me finish my point.” Very often, being politely called out on behaviour makes people stop and think.

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Don’t let difficult colleagues in the workplace get to you. Being ready with an approach to deal with them gives you control in the situation and helps you create a more positive day-to-day working environment.

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