5 Ways to Handle a Difficult Colleague

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We all have them. Those people who make going to work a real displeasure.  Every company has at least one and you are guaranteed them no matter where you go. Our place of work matters.  We spend more time with our colleagues than with our friends and family. Workplace pressures are considerable enough without the compounded pressure of dealing with unlikeable people.

Given that we cannot change the fact that they exist, the best thing that we can do is learn how to best handle them and reduce their impact upon us.

Here are 6 ways to do just that:

1. Don’t panic!
Understand that difficult colleagues are a part of life and unfortunately part of your corporate environment. Take it in your stride and don’t expect it to be any different.  Acceptance is healthy and calming. I like to think, “Hey, these cranky people just make me look better!”

2. Don’t get too involved with the person.
You don’t have to be friends with everyone at the office. Always be polite, courteous and approachable, sure. But not everyone will be your BFF. Keep a polite distance from the colleague in question to avoid getting involved in their negativity.

3. Cultivate understanding.
Compassion is the cornerstone of a happy life. Without getting close, think to yourself, why is it that this person always so erratic/angry/rude/fill in the blank? Perhaps they are going through some personal issues you know nothing about. If you want to address it, try mirroring to the person your observation, such as, “I have noticed you are a little tense today. What is wrong?” Based on the answer perhaps you will eliminate some of the tension and help the person. Remember that difficult people are often unhappy people. Let this give you some solace. Compassion serves both the receiver and the giver.

4. Set boundaries.
If your role requires that you work closely with this person, keep the relationship professional. Boundary setting means focusing on the work or project in question without getting involved in any unnecessary drama. If the conversation veers to sh*t talk, complaining or resistance, a polite and firm, “it will be great just to get through this – lets stay focused” will suffice. It is not your job to please, help improve or change other people.

5. Learn something.
When we do not get emotionally involved in a situation, we can take the objective position of an observer. Use the difficult task of working alongside a problematic colleague as a learning experience.  Spiritual teachers say that all difficult people we encounter are divine assignments for us. They teach us something – patience, forgiveness, and tolerance.  Use this experience to your advantage and gain something from it.

Don’t try and change the person. You can’t. All you can do it adjust your attitude. This way, the power is yours.