How to Deal with a Problematic Coworker
No matter what your job is, chances are you will encounter a problematic coworker. They can come in all shapes and sizes: maybe they always have a negative attitude, make offhand comments, perpetuate office gossip, or even take credit for your hard work. No matter the case, learning how to get along with this type of coworker is vital since dealing with this negative energy can take a toll on your mental health and impact your work. If you find yourself in this situation, consider using the following tools to resolve the issue and learn how to get along once and for all.
You would be surprised how many problems can be resolved with an honest and genuine conversation. In fact, chances are that your coworker is not even aware that they are causing you so much stress. Pull them aside for a quick and casual chat about the situation, but be sure to remain focused on finding a solution and not imply accusations. When they understand that you truly care about bettering your coworking relationship, they might think twice the next time they start to perform the problematic behavior. In any case, it might be helpful to privately document any time you have brought up the problem to your coworker, just in case you need to reference (to your boss or human resources) that you have indeed tried to solve the issue.
Have you ever heard the saying, “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer?” This is true because it’s so much harder for someone to be mean to a friend than it is an enemy. If you look closely, you can find positive qualities in almost anyone. Focus on those positive qualities and try to build a real connection with your coworker. This could look like inviting them to lunch, doing them a favor, building an inside joke, or giving them a compliment. Note that if you come off too strong, they could clock your behavior as being disingenuous.
After continuous problematic behavior from a coworker, pay close attention and recognize the patterns. Are there any triggers, or specific indicators that suggest that their unfavorable behavior is about to rear its ugly head? For example, when they get assigned a big project do they get stressed and begin to act out? Or do they get snippy with you over email instead of face-to-face communication? Whatever it is, recognize the trigger and strategically avoid it. If you see them beginning to exhibit signs of stress, relocate elsewhere for a little solo work time. If they are rude over email, aim to communicate with them in person or over the phone. You can also defuse an uncomfortable situation with humor or kindness: make light out tense situations or, if they appear bothered, ask them if they are alright.
We all know how much better we feel after a good venting session. It feels satisfying to get our feelings off our chest, and learn that our problems are not so distant from other people’s problems. But don’t make the mistake of venting about your problematic coworker to other people around the office. No matter how close you are with your other coworkers, there are no guarantees that your words will not get out and make the situation even worse. Even if not intentional, someone may overhear your conversation or see your chats or emails. Maintaining professionalism at work is one of your greatest tools when disputing someone who doesn’t, so draw this hard line. Instead, go ahead and vent with your friends, partner, or family members about what's going on. If you are experiencing a lot of stress and anxiety about the situation, there’s no harm in connecting with a therapist that can offer an unbiased and professional opinion.
If you still can’t resolve issues with a problematic coworker, you might need to speak with your boss or human resources. This should really be your last resort, because unfortunately this step can backfire and make it appear like you are the one causing problems. If you do decide to bring up the issue, make sure to: 1) stick to the facts and not get emotional, 2) offer a clear explanation of why the issue is impacting your work, 3) remind them of your dedication to your job, and 4) be clear that you want to resolve the problem in order to be as productive and happy at work as possible. Be clear in your discussion whether or not you would like the conversation to remain anonymous, or if you prefer that they do step in to mediate. Sometimes simply bringing up the matter to your boss or human resources can be enough to get valuable advice and further document that you were willing to resolve the issue in any way possible. Speaking of documentation, if you have proof of the conflict (such as an email chain) keep it handy but only bring it up if absolutely necessary, because you don’t want to appear like you’ve been planning a coup.
People are extraordinarily different in their thinking and behavior, and while this diversity is much needed, it can indeed cause friction between people at work. After all, you spend a huge amount of time interacting with your coworkers, so it’s only natural that problems will occasionally arise. Next time you encounter a problematic coworker, employ these tools to solve the issue, diffuse the situation, and create a healthy and productive work environment. On a final note, be patient and kind to yourself as you learn to navigate these tricky social nuances.