“How do you deal with a difficult or challenging coworker?” is a tough question. While there are definitely behaviors that are considered faux pas in the workplace (e.g., yelling, gossiping, acting disrespectfully…the list goes on), we all have different boundaries and limits that we set with our coworkers. Someone’s actions or behaviors that you perceive as annoying, rude, and frustrating might not bother your work BFF at all. Why is that?! More importantly, how can YOU take back control?
As much as I wish I could give you strategies for making your coworkers change their behaviors, we just aren’t that powerful. We can’t make someone change (even though that would make life so much easier, wouldn’t it?!). On the flip side, your coworker doesn’t have the power to make you feel frustrated, annoyed, or angry. This is the concept of emotional responsibility- that we are responsible for our emotional reactions. Yes, a coworker who never submits assignments on time could act as a catalyst to your negative reaction, but you have a choice of how you want to respond in that moment. So, where does this leave us (I told you it was a tricky question!)? Let’s focus on the type of thinking that may be getting you into trouble, and what to do about it.
1. The Unreliable Coworker:
It’s great to work on a team, until one of your team members isn’t pulling their weight. If you’ve been there, you’d be the first to say that getting frustrated and angry isn’t going to help motivate this coworker, OR help you to figure out how to get the project done. Demanding that “She SHOULD get her work done on time!” is just adding fuel to the fire. Not only are you already frustrated with the additional workload, but now you’re also making yourself even angrier by constantly reminding yourself that your coworker is the reason why you’re working late. No matter how much you demand that your coworker get her work done, that’s not going to change the present situation- that she missed the deadline.
As much as you WISH (or really really WANT) your coworker to do her job, you don’t have control over how she manages her time. So, rather than continuing to let your coworker’s mistake get under your skin, try thinking instead, “As much as I wish that she got her work done on time, I can’t change the fact that she didn’t. I don't have control over what she decides to do, and getting myself worked-up is just making the situation worse.” At least if you can approach the problem in a calmer way, you are less likely make a rash decision (and possibly get yourself in trouble), focus on salvaging the project, and determine how to best manage this issue because there is a good chance it could happen again in the future.
2. The Competitive Coworker:
Now let’s discuss the coworker who is very clear about the fact that he/she is going to make it to the top of the executive ladder and has zero qualms about pushing people out of their way- let’s call this coworker Ethan. I’m sure you know somebody like Ethan- the coworker who likes to gloat about their successes, who makes it clear that the only priority is himself/herself, and who takes on extra work acting as a team player…then claims that no one else is working as hard. One thought that may be coming to mind is, “I CAN’T STAND how competitive Ethan acts all of the time! It’s UNBEARABLE having to work with him!” If you’re telling yourself how it’s literally impossible to tolerate working with Ethan, I can only imagine how miserable your day-to-day may seem. No matter how annoying or off-putting you find Ethan’s behavior, you CAN tolerate the situation- meaning, you can survive interacting with him. Yes, this situation does sound incredibly frustrating, but telling yourself that it’s impossible to navigate these interactions isn’t going to do much for your work performance. Soon, this coworker is going to start taking up a lot of mental space that could be going towards something more productive, like your workload or career goals. Instead, try thinking something along the lines of, “Even though I find Ethan’s behavior super annoying, I CAN TOLERATE interacting with him. I’ve been working with him for 3 months now, and I’m still standing. He wants to see people getting worked up, and I’m going to choose not to play into that game.”
The Unreliable and the Competitive Coworker sound familiar? You may have even experienced a coworker who is a mix of both types. Well, we aren’t stopping there. We’ll see you back here next week for Part Two of, “Why You’re Making Challenging Coworkers More Challenging.”
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