Working Effectively With Difficult Colleagues

Working Effectively With Difficult Colleagues

Unless you have been directly involved in their recruitment, you have little or no control over who your work colleagues are. If you find someone in your social circle irritating or offensive, then you can stop spending time with them, but you can’t do this when you have a difficult work colleague. It is an important business skill to learn to manage differences in personalities, and here we look at how you might go about doing this:

  • Consider first whether you are over-reacting – ask yourself if the person’s behaviour really is inappropriate. Have you for example struggled with similar types of people in previous roles?
  • Try and learn more about the difficult colleague as a person, and not just as a workmate – if you find you have things in common outside of work it can lead to a better working relationship
  • Learn what comments and actions touch a nerve with you, and rehearse how you respond in these situations
  • Confide in trusted colleagues – ask others if they are also having difficulty with this particular individual, and try and come up with some ideas between you as to how you could address the problem
  • Try responding to the difficult person with gentle humour
  • If someone is aggressive towards you, you must be assertive in reply, but try very hard not to respond in kind and become aggressive yourself
  • Let the person know, as diplomatically as possible, that you have issues with their manner at work – they may genuinely not realise the way they come across, and once they know, they may take steps to improve the situation

If these approaches don’t work, you may need to discuss the matter with your boss and/or with your difficult colleague’s boss, or with human resources if you believe there may be a disciplinary issue with the person’s conduct.

Above all, remember that you only need to spend time with your work colleagues during the working day. If you have difficult experiences with colleagues, console yourself with the knowledge that you can choose who you hang out with once you leave the office.

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