The challenge of how to effectively work with difficult co-workers is a universal issue. This is a very different scenario than having to deal with a difficult boss or a challenging customer. Clients tell me that they define a difficult co-worker when people in their offices appear to be lazy, unpleasant, over-reactive, emotional, critical, etc. Your co-workers are typically part of the team that you rely on to accomplish the tasks of your job. Not only do they have a direct impact on the quality of your work but even more importantly they can significantly impact your morale at work as well as that of your other co-workers; both of which have a ripple effect on your life outside of work. For these reasons, it is critical that you have a strategy for how to work effectively with difficult co-workers.
Here are 5 tips from Leadership Coach and Consultant Katie Kelley to help you accomplish this challenge:
1) Analyze Your Own Work Style
As I always say, before you begin to look outwards, we must begin by taking stock of our impact on our environment and on others. Consider your personal style at work meaning what the process is that you follow each day to accomplish your tasks. Even though people tend to believe that their days are unpredictable and different, research shows that in fact 95% of our daily routine is predictable and there is a remaining 5% that is variable. So with that fact in mind, sketch out your weekly work routine, identifying for example how you prioritize meetings/deadlines, how you prefer to communicate with people, etc. Don’t spend more than a half hour on this project and then spend another half hour thinking about what your expectations are of all your co-workers based on the routine that you follow.
2) De-Personalize the Person From The Problem
This step requires you giving the benefit of the doubt to your co-worker that their negative behavior is a symptom of a flawed or stressed work process at your workplace and that it is not personal. Try to separate your co-worker’s behavior from the actual work problem that is at the core of your interaction with this person. Work to identify a more efficient process for your workplace that could alleviate the possible resistance of your co-worker. This would be a good time to invite your co-worker to participate in troubleshooting together. Explain to them what you are trying to do by saying for example, “Jim, I have noticed that we have ended up working late into the nights over email in order to finish our work for deadlines. I know this is not an ideal situation for me or my family life, and I can’t imagine you are enjoying it either. Would you be open to troubleshooting with me so that we can determine a way to work more efficiently and effectively so that we are not working so late at night?”
3) Build Your Relationship with the Co-Worker
The third tip is to work on the relationship with your difficult co-worker. Now, many people are feeling very overwhelmed by the amount of work on their plates in our challenging economy. There can be some resistance from folks who don’t feel that they should have to put any more efforts concerning their difficult co-worker than they already do. However, if you want to truly improve your experience when interacting with your difficult co-worker and learn ways to manage other challenging scenarios, then I would urge you to give this particular tip your best efforts. In following with trying to depersonalize the problem, I encourage you to try to develop some empathy for your co-worker and get to know them beyond work. A stretch might even be proposing a coffee date or sharing lunch together where you can learn more about them and perhaps what might be playing into your negative experience with them right now.
4) Propose Improved Process to Management
At this point, you have collected a lot of information about the way that your company does business. It would behoove you to share with your manager what you have been up to and most importantly, what you propose they should do about it in an effort to improve your workplace. Be sure to stress the actual objective problem and avoid speaking slanderously about your co-worker. This is an opportunity for you to take the high road and act as a leader and not a follower who simply complains about a persistent problem. This way you are actually going to make your boss look good to his boss and rewards will likely come your way as a result. So, even though this seems like a lot of work for a situation you didn’t want in the first place, it actually could open the door for you to move ahead and be looked upon as a shining example for all of your co-workers.
5) Be Generous and Clear
The last tip is to adopt a more generous approach to your co-workers. Go out of your way to support them for no reason other than to help them. This can result in people feeling less stressed, pressured or defensive and in turn it can significantly improve the way that people approach you and the perception they might have about you. Also, be sure to communicate as clearly and effectively as possible with all of your co-workers by explaining your rationale for your particular work style and invite them to share how this impacts them. The gist of this exercise is to try to open up the communication lines and create a more supportive and fluid work environment where everyone gets their work done and even enjoys the entire experience!