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Why You're Making Challenging Coworkers More Challenging- Part Two

Last week we discussed the Unreliable and the Competitive coworker. This week, we’re focusing on the Disrespectful and the Dark Cloud coworker.

3. The Disrespectful Coworker:

As you move up the ranks in your company, it can be very exciting to take on more responsibility and a bigger role, including managing your own team. However, this responsibility can also come with a ton of new challenges. What happens when a member of the team doesn’t respect your new title? This may look like someone who is: going over your head and reporting to your supervisor, ignoring instructions or directions, or arguing when you try to provide feedback. The more aggravated you become, the less effective you will be at communicating with this challenging team member, and the relationship will only become more tense. Your instinct might be to think, “He/she is such a ******* (you can fill-in the blank).” Telling yourself that your coworker is “such a jerk!” isn’t 100% accurate. Defining someone solely by just one behavior, trait, or characteristic isn’t really logical. Yes, this coworker may act like a jerk at times, but that’s the way that he acts, not who he is as a person. Would a complete 100% jerk even show-up to work, or meet their deadlines? Probably not. I’m not saying that it’s okay that your coworker acts like a jerk, but when we globally rate someone by one negative characteristic, we only become more worked-up (...which then could lead to our acting like a jerk). That’s why we rate behaviors instead of rating the person as a whole.

We are too complex to be defined by just one behavior!

Instead, recognizing that, “Yes, when she doesn’t treat me like her boss she is acting like a jerk- BUT, she isn’t 100% a jerk. Day-to-day she always completes her work, participates in meetings, and helps out her coworkers. So, I guess she just acts jerky sometimes and that's something I need to address with her,” you are much more likely to keep calm during frustrating interactions. Also, by separating the behavior from the person, you can better evaluate the situation at hand. It wouldn’t be super effective to tell your employee, “Stop being a jerk!” However, when it comes to providing feedback, you can express concern about “jerky” behaviors, teach skills to come across less “jerky,” and identify more effective and less “jerky” ways that your coworker could communicate with you.

4. The Dark Cloud:

This is the coworker who is always complaining. You know, the coworker who comes into your office and always tells you that, “It’s AWFUL how much work I have. It’s AWFUL how little we get paid. It’s HORRIBLE how demanding our boss is…” We all vent and complain at times; but, this type of attitude can definitely take a toll on morale, especially when this type of thinking begins to rub off on you. Before you know it, you too may be Awfulizing about all aspects of the job. Or, maybe you recognize that this coworker’s thinking is a bit extreme, but then you start Awfulizing about your coworker’s behavior (e.g., “Ugh! It’s AWFUL how he always comes into my office complaining about everything!"). Awfulizing is problematic in numerous ways, including: 1) When we Awfulize, we tend to exaggerate how bad or catastrophic something is and, 2) The more we tell ourselves how AWFUL something is, the more we believe it, and the more distressed we become.

All that being said, it’s not my place to tell you what is AWFUL- BUT, what I can tell you is that the more you rehearse this way of thinking, the greater the likelihood that you will join the “Dark Cloud Club.” So, when faced with Awfulizing thoughts it can be helpful to put the situation into perspective by thinking, "Yes, things at work are pretty BAD right now, but it's not the END OF THE WORLD. My team's dynamic is really frustrating, but the situation isn't AWFUL or HORRIBLE." It can also be helpful to remind yourself that, “Even though situations at work can be BAD (even really bad), repeating this to myself all day isn’t going to make this working environment any better." If your work situation is really bad, it may be time to make a change; however, before making this type of decision, you want to make sure that you aren’t exacerbating the problem with extreme thinking.

While there are many other types of difficult coworkers you may experience in the workplace, the examples from this week’s and last week’s blog provide a framework for understanding how your thinking can impact the way that you interact with others in the office. Each coworker typology provides an example of one of the four categories of Dr. Albert Ellis’ Unhelpful Beliefs (i.e., Demandingness, Frustration Intolerance, Other-Downing, and Awfulizing) that we discussed in previous blogs. If you can learn to identify when you are endorsing unhelpful patterns of thinking, recognize how this type of thinking is impeding your interactions, and change your thinking so that you remain more even keeled and communicate more effectively- you won't continue to make challenging coworkers even more challenging.

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