Proactive Ways to Deal With Challenging Colleagues

An important part of life is learning to adapt to some of the more difficult tendencies and idiosyncrasies of others. While in our personal life, we have the freedom to surround ourselves with individuals with whom we find ourselves most compatible; it is the workplace where we find we must continuously exercise our skill to adjust and accommodate.

Businessman listening to a colleague

Sometimes the challenge may be an opposing work-style or simply a communication problem.  Luckily, most of these situations can be rectified, if you learn to recognize it early enough.  It’s also crucial that we remain aware of our own quirks and foibles as well, without automatically assuming the fault lies only with others.

Related:  Tips for Being a Great Coworker

However, there are times where an issue involving a coworker grows troubling and persistent enough that it deserves active attention.  Here, we will explore some of the obstacles that team members may encounter among one other, as well as the most practical ways of handling the resulting circumstances.

Demanding Colleagues – If you are a conscientious employee, you are certainly willing to lend a hand to a colleague in need from time to time.  Yet, if you find yourself assisting this same colleague to the point where you are running short on time for your own projects – or if your coworker is consequently receiving kudos for assignments that you essentially completed for them – this is the time to set clear limits.  The simple resolution is to explain that you are behind in your own responsibilities the next time this coworker requests your assistance, and nicely propose that they touch base with another team member for help. By employing this approach, you are not only reminding your coworker of the importance of your own job (of which they likely lost sight), but also offering them a broad, yet viable alternative.

Confrontational Colleagues – If responsible debates continually escalate to personal attacks, you may be dealing with a confrontational coworker.  Rather than aiming to solve the issue at hand, these employees are more focused on proving you wrong.  Deliberations that turn personal are simply not tolerated in the workplace.  Rather than altogether ceasing from sharing your ideas, attempt to redirect the discussion solely to the topic at hand, and away from the ego.  This can be achieved by avoiding phrases such as “You are wrong,” or “You are misinformed on this topic”.  If this approach is unsuccessful, trying speaking in private with the coworker to evaluate how you may resolve your differences going forward.  However, if this coworker has upper management connections, it may be best to keep your distance, rather than risk a dispute that may affect opportunities for advancement down the road.  In instances where all tactics have failed, incorporate HR or a direct supervisor to help you handle the situation.

Competitive Colleagues – While the majority of our work associates may be supportive of our achievements, we sometimes encounter a coworker whose sense of competition and drive for success overshadows all else.  While a healthy sense of ambition is laudable, competitive colleagues can sometimes border on hostile toward other successful coworkers.  It’s best to reduce your number of interactions with these types of colleagues, if at all possible.  If you must work closely with a competitive coworker, keep conversations light, maintaining focus on the task at hand, rather than issues that may trigger negative emotions.  Also, portraying your own encouragement of your coworker’s achievements may prompt a more amiable response.  If no other methods succeed, and you feel your productivity is being hindered, speak to HR or your direct supervisor.

Dominating Colleagues — Although a company leader or superior does have influence over your job, a dominating colleague or coworker only perceives to have this influence.  Workers who aim to dominate or oppress their coworkers must be dealt with from the beginning.  The key is to remind this type colleague that you are both within the same professional ranking, and deserving of the same level of respect.  If a dominating colleague attempts to use intimidation tactics, don’t lose your cool, but instead protect yourself by peacefully reminding them that you do not agree with their actions.  If it is not possible for you to create enough physical space between yourself and this colleague, try imagining your own personal barricade to mentally guard against intimidation.  Keeping a running log of your communications with this coworker will also prove beneficial should you need to present the issue to a supervisor or HR.

Implementing Strategies

While these are some of the most common concerns that often arise among colleagues in the workplace, there are, unfortunately, a wide and varied range of intolerances that employees must learn to counterbalance.  Often, those who are ill-treating you may not necessarily realize the gravity of their actions; and those who are aware, may not actually expect you to speak up or seek supportive resources. In fact, there may be circumstances where it’s best to not respond and reflect on what is actually happening.  Is the problem endemic to the office or is it focused specifically on you?  Are there others who may be victims as well?  These are some of the factors which will change your response options.

Nevertheless, plotting and arranging an effective defense strategy – whether through pre-composed statements or by incorporating the assistance of your company’s leaders and human resource department – will assist you in your efforts to diffuse any persistently negative situations.

The Takeaway

The key to solving problems is being able to see both sides of the issue, approaching it in a professional manner, and being civil.  There will always be injustices and you’ll not always get the credit you are due.  Ultimately, however, if you make it a policy to always over-deliver, to put the team first, and help others be great, you’ll have the respect of your peers and a success you deserve.

Fred Coon, CEO

Stewart, Cooper & Coon, has helped thousands of decision makers and senior executives move up in their careers and achieve significantly improved financial packages within short time frames. Contact Fred Coon – 866-883-4200, Ext. 200