Relationships at work are much like relationships at home: no matter how good the good times are, if you don’t know how to handle the tough times then you may be doomed. The difference is, you have much less choice who you spend your time with in the workplace – and if your professional performance is impaired by an uncooperative or hostile workmate, you’re likely to see your results and your reputation plummet along with your morale.
So how should you negotiate such a situation? Well, it partly depends on your position, but regardless of rank the principles remain the same: empathy, assertiveness, and pro-activity.
Empathy is a case of trying to figure out what is causing your colleague’s difficult behavior. Despite what the movies teach us, few people are actively out to bring down your career or the company you work for. A bad attitude can usually be traced to a far less dramatic source, for example feelings of inadequacy, stress, or jealousy. When you decide to confront your colleague, or should you yourself be confronted by their bad attitude in a regular meeting, try not to snap or create a ‘them and us’ scenario. Instead, ask questions, remain calm, and consider taking the meeting to neutral territory without the physical barrier of a desk or the glares of an open-plan office.
If you’re the boss, it’s your responsibility to take control of the situation. Even if you’re not the boss, it doesn’t mean you can’t be assertive. Indeed, if your boss is the person who’s giving you a hard time, it is important to think about setting some boundaries. If their language is regularly gendered, they repeatedly interrupt you, or they refuse to give you credit for your successful ideas, it’s time to have a meeting and discuss how you feel. Sometimes it takes having things spelt out for someone to realize how unreasonable or hurtful their behavior has become. If you’re the one in the management position, you might consider setting your problem-employee identifiable goals to ensure that they work towards improvement.
Difficult colleagues will rarely just ‘get better’, and as long you sit quietly and wait it out your business and your other relationships are likely to suffer. Check out this new guide to dealing with problem workers for some ideas on how to make a proactive response to such a figure – it is your own career that hangs in the balance while they hold you hostage to their emotions.
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