Teamwork is great. It’s by far the best way to get things done, bringing individuals together to create something that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Of course, that’s not taking anything away from your unique skills and experience, it’s just that two heads are usually better than one. When it works, it brings out the best in everyone, and leads to truly creative collaborations that generate innovative and exciting ideas.
That is, of course, until you find yourself dealing with a difficult colleague.
Working as a team can often be a liberating experience. However, when you feel that there’s someone who is actively trying to sabotage your collaboration through an unwillingness to compromise, then it can be very difficult to remain professional and push forward. It’s a sad fact that some people just don’t play well with others; and whether dealing with an abject pessimist or a shameless narcissist, people who either love or loathe the sound of their own voice can both have a negative impact on your team and your own productivity.
So how do you continue to work effectively when you don’t get along with someone on your team? And how do you deal with difficult colleagues while remaining professional in the face of bad behavior and negative attitudes? Here, we take a look at a few strategies designed to help you deal with difficult team members and ensure your communication is professional at all times.
Understand Why Conflict Exists
Sometimes, the dynamic between certain people causes professional misunderstandings which, if left unchecked, can lead to a deterioration in a workplace relationship. Understanding why conflict exists in the first place is crucial when dealing with difficult colleagues, allowing you to adapt your behavior and call-out negative or destructive attitudes. Sometimes, the resolution to a conflict can be as simple as a face-to-face chat, with many individuals not realizing the impact of their actions or words until it is brought to their attention. Speak calmly and reasonably and you may be surprised to hear the same in return.
Deal with Annoying Habits Sooner Rather than Later
Difficult coworkers come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes, annoying or destructive habits can easily be dealt with. For example, that colleague who eats loudly at their desk every day may be motivated by a willingness to work, unaware of their impact of the rest of the team. The colleague who always seems to undermine your ideas may simply be playing devil’s advocate, without understanding how his particular strain of discourse is destructive rather than helpful. Often, highlighting bad habits to the perpetrator can help you deal with difficult people at work and prevent bigger issues from developing later on. Mindfulness is always a good thing, some people just need to be reminded more often than others!
When speaking face to face, it is critical that you avoid getting drawn into arguments. Sadly, some people are just naturally argumentative, and will push all the right buttons. Arguing with people, however, will not only leave you frustrated (and possibly satisfy your coworker’s belligerent impulses) but it’s also likely to reflect badly on you in the eyes of others. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire they say, and entering a slanging match across the office is definitely not the way to deal with difficult staff. If you feel a discussion is becoming unreasonable, then simply shut it down and walk away (respectfully).
Communicate Through Email
If you find that speaking directly causes too many disagreements and leads to unproductive discussion when dealing with a difficult colleague, then stick to email as a method of communication. First, some people are more likely to respond favorably to communication in writing. Second, email allows you to minimize the number of possible triggers. If, for instance, your colleague has a particularly negative attitude, this is less likely to be transmitted across a logically constructed email that asks for a simple and direct response. Keep the tone friendly and conversational, despite any grudges you may be holding, but also lay out exactly what you need to say in a succinct way. Avoid passive-aggressive statements and don’t leave any space for misinterpretations that might lead to further conflict.
Document Long-Term Bad Behavior
If the state of your relationship continues to deteriorate, then ensure you document bad behavior and previous flashpoints when dealing with difficult coworkers. If you are already communicating through email, you’ll have your messages archived. Outside of email, keep a log of when, where, and how your coworker is acting destructively. Try to keep the tone of your log factual and avoid direct criticism of your colleague. If the time comes, you will want to present the information as evidence detailing concrete examples of their behavior and how it is impacting you and your other colleagues—not simply as a diary of your emotions on any particular day.
If all else fails, then it’s time to seek help. Speak to other colleagues and ascertain whether they are also experiencing difficulties with the colleague in question. However, be careful not to gossip, as this can lead to feelings of alienation which may impact your working relationship further. If things worsen, speak to a manager or supervisor and ask for their advice on how to deal with the difficult colleague. S small and sound out the situation before launching into a rant about specific incidents. Speak about how your coworker is impacting your work and state of mind in the office. Finally, ensure that you meet regularly to discuss how any action plans have been implemented and whether the situation has improved.