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7 tips to deal with a difficult co-worker

Last updated on: June 09, 2014 10:08 IST

7 tips to deal with a difficult co-worker

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Devika Arora

A bad co-worker can negatively influence your performance at work and even discourage you from success. Read on to find out how you can survive the situation...

No matter how well-meaning the management of your organisation is or how stringent its selection criteria are, there is always a chance that a co-worker can act difficult and try to pull you down with his/her negativity.

You may have placed your faith in the company’s policies but chances are that you are deemed to come across a colleague who creates problems with his negative attitude, which may leave you feeling emotionally drained and exhausted.

And who knows, sharing your problems with such employees may even put you in the bad books of your seniors.

Some of the negativity in such co-workers may be the outcome of a temporal issue they are facing.

No matter what the reason is, a co-worker’s bad behaviour can directly influence your performance at work, which can eventually lead to bigger issues in your career.

As a colleague, you need to prevent yourself from every possible situation that can come in the way of your professional success.

Here are a few steps you can take to deal with negative co-workers and arrest the situation in time.

1. Identify the problem

There are many kinds of co-workers who spread negativity in different forms. From constant whining to giving a cold-shoulder treatment, co-workers can be aggressive, hostile or arrogant.

They may bully you or shirk the responsibility bestowed upon them.

They may even misappropriate credit or blame.

The first step to finding solution to a problem is to understand and acknowledge the problem.

Once you know what you’re up against, tackling it will become easier.

You should then define the behaviour that bothers you, write it down and also include detailed examples of things that annoyed you.

Categorise them into those that you can change and those you will simply have to ignore.

Devika Arora is a professional writer and blogger with special focus on career building and job search. She is currently working with Naukrigulf.com, a job search portal addressing employment needs in the Middle East.

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Image: A co-worker's bad behaviour can directly influence your performance at work.
Photographs: Illustration by Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

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2. Understand that you have choices

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You always have a choice while handling office issues.

You can either choose to ignore or confront the negative co-worker.

There are many ways to do the latter for a favourable outcome.

If the problematic co-worker is not directly affecting you and your work and you can tolerate the situation, it is best to ignore.

You should view this as an opportunity for growth and self-development.

However, if your productivity is getting affected or the negative work culture is stressing you out, you must take the bull by the horns and address the issue in a professional, well-planned and well-rehearsed manner.

You will need to be diplomatic when discussing the matter with the person.

This is a necessary action; as negativity, when unaddressed, will affect your performance as well as perception at work.

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Image: If you're capable of tolerating the behaviour, you may choose to ignore the negative co-worker.
Photographs: Illustration by Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
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3. Analyse the co-worker's perspective

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The key to conflict resolution is open-mindedness.

You should try and understand the other person’s perspective.

Determine the motivations and objectives impelling such behaviour.

While some people can have permanent schizoid tendencies, others may experience temporary character flaws because of different factors.

It can be because of excessive workload, job insecurity, dissatisfaction with management and working conditions, inadequacy, complexes and lack of clarity about role or even personal problems outside office.

Once you understand their point of view, you will be in a better position to find a way out of this negative situation.

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Image: Try and analyse the situation from your co-worker's point of view.
Photographs: Illustration by Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
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4. Define the desired outcome

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Once you've dissected the problem to analyse the root cause and understood the other person's viewpoint, you must decide the positive outcome that would satisfy you.

Make sure your objectives are realistic and measurable.

Devise a special game plan for achieving those goals.

While setting the goals, you must anticipate the hurdles in the way.

Before the confrontation, make sure you are equipped and well-prepared for any sort of a response (the person could get defensive, put up objections or react negatively).

You must have the courage and tact to hold your ground till the time the desired outcome is achieved. 

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Image: Set realistic expectations and have a strategy in place.
Photographs: Illustration by Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
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5. Be tactful yet direct

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Once you have chosen to confront the person, make use of constructive criticism to convey your feelings.

Since this discussion is important, make sure you have it face to face.

Speak in a polite, calm and diplomatic manner.

You voice should be far from threatening, so keep it low and choose your words carefully.

Clearly state your bone of contention and cite concrete examples in support of your statements.

Remember not to humiliate your co-worker by harshly criticising him or making accusatory remarks.

Listen actively and be gentle as your aim is to resolve the issue and to amicably settle the conflict, you wouldn't want to alleviate the negativity to an all new level.

Hurting the person or getting him/her angry can backfire and s/he may come back to haunt you.

It is best to be diplomatic so as not to burn the bridges.

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Image: Be polite, calm and diplomatic in your approach.
Photographs: Illustration by Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
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6. Document your discussion whenever possible

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It is always a wise idea to document your communication at work, especially while dealing with difficult colleagues as they to tend to say negative words and do negative things.

This step is necessary for gain to a clearer perspective.

Documentation will also give you concrete references if you ever get into a heated confrontation with the person or if matters get escalated and the management is involved.

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Image: Document the discussion you have with colleagues.

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7. Identify the right time to withdraw

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Raking up issues can have two consequences.

The management may seem inadvertently rewarding or may positively reinforce negative behaviour.

It is also possible that they're incapable or even unwilling to help you.

They may not be able to understand the seriousness of the matter.

In any of such cases, you would be better off looking for greener pastures elsewhere.

Talk to your manager and start exploring different roles in the same division or seek opportunity in another vertical.

The idea is to move to a position where you wouldn’t have to deal with this negative co-worker.

In the worst-case scenario, when all efforts turn vain, you may even consider switching over to another organisation.

If you decide to do so, make sure you leave on a cordial and professional note.


Image: Even if you have to quit the organisation, leave on a cordial and professional note.
Photographs: Illustration by Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
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