Dealing With Challenging Co-Workers and Associates

Sometimes the people we work with – whether you are an entrepreneur and work with sub-contractors or you’re an employee and work with other colleagues – make it hard to deal with them in a positive manner.

Everyone is different – but you knew that already, right? We each have our own personality quirks, likes and dislikes, and it makes us each unique and special. The challenge arises when our brand of “special” seems to conflict with another person’s brand of “special”.

I’m sure you’ve experienced times when it’s hard to respond positively or even in a neutral but businesslike manner to a colleague or contractor. All people, no matter what their field of expertise, level of authority, or years of experience, have occasional rough times while associating with others.

Here are a few suggestions for techniques you can use to respond to challenging situations with co-workers or other professionals:

  1. Have a talk with yourself about the person. Remind yourself to focus on the facts rather than any subjective opinions you have.

Think about this person: who they are, how they relate to others, and how they relate to you.

Acknowledge your feelings to yourself about the co-worker. Pushing them down or denying them doesn’t help and may even make things worse.

  1. Accept that you don’t have to “like” all your co-workers. You don’t have to be socially connected to them – your current requirement is to appropriately communicate with them about work.
  2. Recognize that you have a few things in common. At the very least, you work at the same place and you both want to do a good job.

Avoid focusing on thoughts about how they don’t act the way you want them to – that will reinforce negative emotions and may lead to a blow-up.

It’s okay and even common for people to behave differently in the same situation. While we might be most comfortable doing things our own way, you can learn something from everyone you encounter – stay open to learning.

  1. Live up to your standards. Make a conscious decision to act with integrity at work, especially when dealing with the difficult co-worker.

No matter whom you work with, establish and keep your own standards of performance. Plan to behave in a consistently positive way with everyone at work.

Set a constructive and affirmative tone during each exchange with the challenging associate as much as possible. Don’t YOU be the one that escalates the negative tone of the exchange.

  1. Avoid trying to evade them. Accept that there will be times when you need to communicate with the colleague in question. Remind yourself to behave with acceptance and patience.

When you must speak to the challenging person, relax, take a deep breath and focus on them; call them by name and make eye contact. You can stand your ground without causing additional discord.

  1. Avoid showing irritation, annoyance or dislike. Regardless of how the co-worker relates to you, be consistent with how you address them.
  2. Choose to take the “higher road” in the working relationship. If your colleague or associate behaves in unsavory ways, avoid focusing on these troublesome behaviors. Instead, focus on the task at hand and try to remain productive. Make a personal decision to be the best person you can be in the situation, and then work for a long-term resolution when possible.
  3. Stick to business issues when talking with your associate.

Even if they ask for your opinion, focus on the facts in your conversations and avoid discussing personal elements like character or intelligence.

Be thorough, efficient, and business-like in your exchanges with them.

Demonstrate through your behavior that you’ll do everything possible to complete all work tasks and projects while still expecting appropriate behavior from the other individual.

  1. Treat the challenging co-worker with the same respect you treat other colleagues or contractors.

The more you practice this strategy, the easier it becomes.

Expect nothing in return. Your choice to be respectful is 100% your decision and isn’t related to how the co-worker or associate treats you. If you are the “driver” in the relationship, you can also document the challenging behavior and use that information to either connect with others on the matter, or choose to work with a different associate.

  1. Strive to use a pleasant tone voice. Recognize that your tone of voice and volume are important when speaking to any work associate or contractor. Make an extra effort to keep a friendly or at least neutral tone. Keep your volume to a minimum to avoid any impression that you are out of control in the situation.
  2. Give sincere compliments. Avoid disingenuous exchanges with the challenging co-worker. In other words, don’t compliment their shoes if you don’t really like them.

However, if you truly have a compliment and you want to share it, do so by making eye contact, using a friendly voice tone and listening to their response. Don’t get too invested in waiting for an equally friendly response – just say what you have to say and move on.

  1. Avoid petty discussions with others about the challenging co-worker or associate. The less time you spend on such exchanges, the more free and focused you are to deal with the business at hand.

Also, office gossip and scape-goating is unwise, as it decreases morale and creates an emotionally unsafe environment for everyone there, including you. You should particularly avoid “venting” on social media, as it makes YOU look like the one who is perpetuating the negative.

You are capable of making the decision to successfully interact with challenging co-workers and associates. Actively applying the above techniques will aid you in looking past your personal feelings and focusing on your job. You’ll soon discover you’re dealing with the challenging co-worker the same way you deal with other colleagues: with integrity, honesty and respect.