We’ve all had to deal with a difficult co-worker in the past. In fact, some of you might be working alongside one right now. While a difficult co-worker can seem like an insurmountable obstacle to your productivity, there are actually a number of things that can be done to try and place some distance between you and the peer in question.
Understand the Company Culture
A company’s culture plays a large part in creating difficult co-workers. Certain companies, especially those that hold highly prolific positions in their respective industries, tend to breed highly competitive environments. As such, it’s important to understand if a co-worker is difficult as a result of their own doing or if it is a product of the 21st century workplace.
Michele Woodward, executive coach and webinar host with Harvard Business Review, spoke about this in a recent webinar by saying: “It’s very easy to say, ‘Oh, that person is a jerk.’ But perhaps you work in a highly competitive culture or one that doesn’t prioritize politeness. Consider whether you might be misinterpreting the behavior or overreacting to it or whether you’ve unknowingly contributed to the problem.”
Assess Yourself as Well as Your Co-Worker
Once you’ve eliminated company culture as the cause of your difficult co-workers, it’s time to properly assess the situation at hand. First, try to assess your own quirks and nuances. Personality clashes do happen, and that’s a perfectly normal thing. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you co-worker is being difficult, however.
Diana McLain Smith, author of “The Elephant in the Room: How Relationships Make or Break the Success of Leaders and Organizations,” spoke about how often a particular situation can affect relationships amongst co-workers. She wrote: “People tend to think in terms of motives and people’s character, despite the fact that cognitive psychology has proved for the last 30 years that when people act one way and not another, it’s more often due to situational factors rather than due to character.”
Separate Yourself from the Co-Worker
In some cases, you may be able to physically separate yourself from the difficult co-worker in question. If possible, ask your supervisors for a transfer to a new department. Some even find that transferring to a new shift or another facility is highly beneficial, though this is not a viable option for all.
Resolve the Conflict on Your Own
Confronting a difficult co-worker – when done professionally and respectfully – is a great way to resolve any underlying issues, while minimizing the damage of a workplace conflict. Simply vocalizing your concerns, or hearing and understanding theirs, may be enough to quell any problems. In fact, you may even be able to come to an understanding that accommodates the needs of both parties.
Escalating Your Concerns to Management
While this should only be done as a last resort, escalating your concerns to management may be your only remaining course of action. If this is the case, make sure to state your concerns in a professional manner. When doing so, make sure to inform your manager of any steps you’ve taken to try and resolve the conflict on your own.
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