No matter where you work, it is a certainty that you will have to work with a difficult co-worker at some point in your career. In fact, you may have met him or her already: a difficult colleague can be someone who complains constantly, does not contribute equally, is always ready to start an argument, or even engages in bullying.
In many circumstances, it can be hard to know the right thing to say or do in response to someone whose behaviour is uncooperative and irrational. However, there are a few responses you can rely on that will make the situation easier to handle in many contexts.
- Don’t fight fire with fire.
If someone is getting into a heated argument or accusing others without thinking, you might begin to feel yourself getting worked up and ready to fight back.
While it takes great restraint, try not to let someone’s passion or anger influence your own behaviour. “Fighting fire with fire,” as the saying goes, will only escalate the situation. Instead, take a deep breath, try to maintain a cool head, and counter his or her irrationality with logical and measured responses. While doing so, do match their emotions. If someone is on fire and you speak in a slow and calm voice, you will only aggravate them even more. You do not have to yell and tell, simply match the passion in your voice and the cadence of your speech with theirs.
- Don’t take it personally.
When a colleague is acting rudely and is difficult to work with, know that this behaviour is not directed at you personally. Instead, a colleague’s challenging behaviour in the workplace is often a result of his or her own stress, whether in the office or at home. He or she also may be coping with problems that you are not aware of.
Although it is unprofessional and unkind to be rude to others as a result of one’s own stress, keeping this idea in mind will help you to cope when faced with difficult behaviour, as well as to be empathetic to your colleague.
- Focus on your positive professional relationships.
While you might have one demanding co-worker who overshadows your workday, try not to focus all your attention on this single relationship. Instead, remind yourself of all the supportive, friendly, and professional relationships that you have in your network.
When you maintain your attention on building and maintaining strong relationships with the people who are truly a joy to work with, it will help you to feel more positive and productive rather than diminished by one individual’s difficult personality.
- Hold your ground—and pick your battles.
You do not always need to take someone’s challenging behaviour lying down – and you must know when to fight back and when to let it go. Constantly trying to resist and argue with a difficult colleague can become extremely exhausting and stressful. Additionally, always reacting to a co-worker’s behaviour can affect your own professional image by portraying you as someone who is combative and reactive to provocation.
- If it becomes a serious issue, involve HR.
A difficult colleague can simply be testy or uncooperative. However, when an individual engages in sustained workplace bullying or any form of abuse, this becomes a much more serious issue. If the problem escalates to this level, it is appropriate to contact the Human Resources department within your company and report abusive behaviour. Your HR department will help to take the necessary steps to solve this critical workplace issue.
Relying on your Executive Presence can help you to navigate many challenges in the workplace, including dealing with difficult colleagues. For more on this topic, see our previous blog post, “How Executive Presence and Other Skills Can Help You Solve Issues in the Workplace.” How do you cope with challenging personalities in your working environment?