Everyone has that difficult colleague. Here’s how to deal with them
Whether it’s a team member you work closely with or a distant colleague that always seems to create problems when you work together, it’s virtually impossible to escape the working world unscathed by difficult colleagues. But since this is the reality of nearly every office, it’s important to learn to deal with these situations in a way that causes both you and the larger team(s) the least stress possible.
Take the high road by remaining calm
The easiest thing to do in a difficult work situation is to get flustered and lash out—but staying calm can help to assert your dominance as well as earn you respect from other parties involved. Unless you’re consciously using anger to trigger an action from the other person (which can be a legitimate strategy when thought through beforehand), do your best to keep your emotions under control—at least when you’re interacting directly with the difficult person.
Don’t shy away from confrontation
Assuming that staying calm is the same thing as avoiding a situation can be a simple way out of having to face a tough conversation, but don’t use this as an excuse. While it can seem easier to let things go unaddressed instead of tackling an issue head-on, this will likely just result in more pent up anger. That said, it does require some tact to find the right time, place, and way of confronting the person, so don’t just go about picking arguments.
Seek outside perspectives
Chances are, many people in your close network will have experienced similar situations—or at least have an opinion to share about how best to approach it. To be sure, don’t become the office gossip by complaining about the circumstances, but use your best judgement to speak with trusted colleagues who have also interacted with the person. In addition, close friends and family can provide a sounding board for your complaints and ideas about the best way forward. Once you’ve gotten a few opinions, triangulate them with your own thoughts to come up with a plan of action.
Provide context and explain your intentions
It’s likely that both you and the difficult colleague will hold opinions of the other—and if working together has been tough, they may not be the best opinions. To avoid either of you jumping to conclusions, try to have an honest conversation about the reasoning behind your actions so that you can both understand where the other is coming from. In addition to increasing the chances that the colleague is more sympathetic once he or she understands your stance, getting a better sense of their motivations can help you to find a way forward that both parties are satisfied with.
Focus on actions
Rather than harping on past events, work together to come up with actions that can be taken to help you and the colleague work more effectively together in the future. Coming to a common agreement with concrete actions can not only focus the conversation and help you to sidestep potential arguments, but also give you both a measurable way to gauge whether the situation improves in the future.
If you’ve exhausted your other options, it may make sense to escalate to your manager, whose actions can have more of an impact than you could achieve alone. If you decide this is the best way forward, follow the above pieces of advice in approaching your manager, as remaining calm and explaining your position logically can strengthen your position and lend credibility to your argument.
That said, be careful not to turn to management for every conflict you face. While good managers will be happy to step in given a truly difficult situation, they will also expect their direct reports to handle some of their own conflicts, so pick your battles when it comes to asking for help.