Difficult Coworkers: 4 Smart Strategies for Success

Have you ever had difficult coworkers who bothered you so much that you just wanted to hide in the bathroom every time you saw them coming? Everyone’s had an experience like this at some point, whether the colleagues simply get on your nerves, don’t pull their weight or are constantly negative. But you don’t have to feel like your stomach’s in knots whenever they walk into the room. Here are four proactive strategies for dealing with difficult coworkers that you can start implementing today.

1. Look at Your Feelings Objectively

Take an objective look at your feelings. If you think a coworker is trying to undermine you, for example, it doesn’t automatically mean they are. Sometimes a work environment encourages competition, which can cause you to see motivations that aren’t really there. Before you react, talk things over with a friend who has no skin in the game. Could you be projecting your own insecurities onto your coworker? If that’s possible, try befriending the person you’re worried about. You may realize there’s really no conflict at all.

2. Address Toxic Situations Early

Although it’s important to take time to look at the facts, you don’t want to let real conflict simmer for too long. For example, if a coworker is trying to take credit for your work, don’t ignore the situation forever. If you let a toxic situation go unaddressed, it can get worse. Find a time when you’re calm and discuss the issue with your coworker privately. If that doesn’t help, you may need to involve your boss. If it comes to this, have evidence on hand that shows you’re not overreacting. It might help to prepare a list of your own accomplishments to help keep the record straight.

3. Give Yourself Space

Sometimes a colleague is difficult but not in a way that could seriously jeopardize your career. For example, maybe they stop by your desk frequently, taking up precious work time. Just be upfront and tell your coworker that you have a really busy schedule and can’t chat. Be aware of your body language while you’re talking so you can project a firm commitment to your job. If your coworker is always complaining and gossiping, respond by being overly positive. They might not want to complain to you anymore after that! In a scenario where your coworker simply can’t respect your boundaries, consider buying headphones to wear at your desk. This can discourage unwanted interruptions.

4. Don’t Enable Bad Behavior

Sometimes a difficult coworker is acting lazy or irresponsible, and you don’t want to be implicated in their bad decisions. You may have helped them out once, but now over time you’re noticing a pattern. Don’t put your job at risk by covering for someone. If they ask you to take over their work, explain that you have your own deadlines. If they want you to cover while they take an extra-long lunch, let them know that you need to take your break, too. If you’re worried that this could make you look like a poor team player, then keep a list of the times your coworker gives their work to someone else. That way, if your boss ever asks, you’ll have objective data to share.

When you’re dealing with a difficult coworker, remember that you can only change how you react; you can’t change someone else. Evaluate your reactions objectively and get help from someone else at work if the situation warrants.

Looking for more work advice? Check out our series of online professional development classes. Access iLearn@ADP and explore courses that could have a huge, positive impact on your work life.

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