10 Positive Ways To Deal With Difficult Colleagues

Your colleagues can make work a wonderful place, but if there are clashes, politics and downright unpleasantness then going to work each day can become an ordeal. So how do you navigate through the battles, maintain a positive attitude and get the recognition and success for the work that you are doing. It’s all about separating facts from emotions and creating a healthy mind space. That isn’t always easy and there have been times when I have wanted to have a full on EastEnders style show down with people or I’ve been sat at my desk giving death stares and rolling my eyes and tutting to show my disapproval. Neither of those things are healthy so if you find yourself in that situation, maybe think about these 10 things that can help you maintain a productive and positive work space for you.

  1. Is this affecting your work

Is that colleague being annoying? Are you bored of listening to their stories about themselves or their inflated ego going on and on about how great they are? That may be the case but ask yourself, how is this stopping me from doing a great job? Are they just wittering on or are they actively stopping you from succeeding. If they are just simply getting on your nerves then focus on the work and block them out. If you feel that they are deliberately stopping you from doing your job, ask yourself how they are doing this. Write down examples of this and have an open conversation with them and/or your boss. It may be that they are unaware of this. Be careful how you phrase this and keep it all very factual and business related rather than emotional and along the lines of “she doesn’t like me”.

  1. We don’t have to all be friends

You can start a new job and feel that this is the place where you can make a whole heap of new friends, potentially find the love of your life, and have a work life that crosses and merges into your personal life. Sometimes that works out for people and sometimes it doesn’t. Remember work is not an extension of college and you are there to work, it’s a great bonus if you have good friends there but sometimes that doesn’t happen. Try not to take it too personally, not everyone is going to like you. That’s a tough lesson to learn sometimes and sometimes no matter how lovely you are to people they just might not get you, or even want to. That’s all about them and not about you. Don’t force your energy on creating something that might not happen. Just be professional, make sure your work is great and smile through it. I’ve worked in places where people have really got me and in places where people are literally like “who is this guy?” and I know that sometime we have an innate desire for people to like us, but sometimes they won’t and often there is nothing we can do to control that. So unless they are personally attacking you then keep on keeping on being your best and most authentic self.

  1. Kill them with kindness

When people exclude you, ignore you or be rude to you, the initial reaction is to be defensive, fight back or internally analyse and blame yourself for their behaviour towards you. Sometimes it can be better to kill them with kindness. People who are threatened by you or want to undermine you expect you to react in a certain way and by doing so that either affirms their opinion of you or gives them a bit of power. It’s often when people can’t control you, or you are seen as too much of an individual that people then try and control how other people see you. That can be devastating and isolating and cruel and the last thing you might think is repaying that with kindness, but sometimes that is the most effective way to respond. A friend of mine joined a new production team and whatever she did wasn’t good enough, she was excluded, bullied and made to feel rubbish about herself. She decided to bake the bullies cakes and bring them in the next day with a big smile. The bullies were openly shocked and actually said to her “after all we’ve done to you, you bring us cakes”. The act of kindness shamed them into thinking about how they had behaved and the relationship from that moment improved. This might not always work, and if you find yourself in a bullying environment then take notes of incidents and discuss with your manager and HR.

  1. Are these my traits?

Often the things that we find annoying in other people are traits that we have ourselves. We either find them annoying in ourselves or more often we can’t actually see that we behave in that way. So when Sue sat opposite you whinges about her workload or overshares about her weekend, ask yourself, do I do that as well? We can find people that are similar to us annoying and even if you can’t fathom someone who is very different from you, and makes different choices to you, then ask yourself “does it really matter that they do it that way” or if they love to bemoan their work. Maybe that’s just their way of coping with the day.

  1. Are they going through something

Changes in moods, bursts of anger and resentment towards colleagues don’t generally just come out of nowhere. People’s workloads can cause stress and frustration and this can spill out in terms of how they behave towards their colleagues. You also don’t always know what personal battles people are dealing with as well and along with work stress this can manifest itself in difficult behaviour. So think about your colleagues, ask them to chat over a cup of tea and ask them if they are ok? They may not want to talk but reaffirm that you are there to listen if they do. That offer of support can really help someone in their day to day work. We can mask our feelings and our stresses with the notion of being professional or corporate but an honest chat with a trusted colleague can work wonders for us. Whilst you can’t always excuse bad behaviour its useful to know where it stems from and you can offer support.

  1. Are they sabotaging you?

Ask yourself is that annoying colleague who’s perfect at managing upwards but sneers at their colleagues deliberately sabotaging your career or are they not even thinking about you. We can create dramatic tales of power hungry colleagues stabbing you in the back to get ahead, but look at the evidence, is that what is really happening? Those fuelled by ambition can be focused solely on themselves and it can appear they are throwing you under the bus, but is that actually true.? Sometimes we watch too many American crime dramas to separate fact from fiction, so look at the evidence and see what’s really true.

  1. Water off a ducks back

In the words of Drag Race legend Jinx Monsoon sometimes you have to just think it’s all “water off a ducks back”, just let it all slide and keep smiling.  Focus on what is important and what is good in your life and petty office politics will seem irrelevant.

  1. Is revenge worth it?

The aftermath of having a difficult boss or colleagues that you just don’t gel with can leave you feeling lacking in confidence and angry. Try not to take that anger with you to your next role but become more savvy at reading the room and evaluating your colleagues. Thoughts of revenge and throwing a class of wine Dynasty style over that colleague that badmouthed you can feel rewarding but think about what that legacy is going to say about you. It’s always better to leave with dignity and those that treated you badly will come to realise the error of their ways. Karma always comes a knocking for these people.

  1. Is it all in my head?

Is it my bad mood and my situation that is projecting negative feelings onto my relationships with colleagues. When we are going through difficult times we can lash out and blame other people or seek fault in others to justify our own discomfort. Also sometimes playing the victim can draw attention to us. In offices people can bond over their dislike of someone or over a perceived wrongdoing. You can see when one colleague has been promoted over another then the unsuccessful one can draw people towards them with complaining about injustice, this can then cause fractions and conflict in the office. So are your difficult colleagues really that difficult or are you blaming them from your dissatisfaction in your role?

  1. Am I equating them with people I don’t like?

Have you ever worked somewhere and one of your colleagues reminds you of someone? This can be positive, “she’s just like my mate Steve”, but it can also be negative, “she reminds me of my school bully”. How we then interact with these people is shaped by the associations we place on them. So ask yourself are you being aloof, closed off and even a little shady because that person reminds you of someone you don’t like.  Remind yourself that they are not that person and you need to approach your working relationship with them with an open mind.

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