Article: Dealing with a difficult colleague in the most effective way

Employee Relations

Dealing with a difficult colleague in the most effective way

A step-by-step guide to help you proceed when a hostile colleague is making your time in office difficult.
Dealing with a difficult colleague in the most effective way

No matter how much you love your job, or enjoy the company of your colleagues, there is always, always this one co-worker with whom you can’t seem to get along. An unsaid cold war silently builds between the two of you, until it reaches a point where all bets are off, and dealing with each other, even for professional matters, becomes difficult. It is important to understand that you cannot be best friends with everyone you work with, but having a nemesis who wants to sabotage your professional accomplishments can be a tough situation to handle. Conflict hardly ever resolves on its own, and needs an intervention – an action to change the present status.

Before you go all guns blazing, take a step back, and go through the following checklist to make wise decisions:

Assess your role

Make an honest attempt to understand what led to the present situation in the first place. In most times, a small misunderstanding or comment takes a life of its own, and is often fuelled by gossip.

Get to the root of the problem, and be sure you understand the issue of contention from your end.

Maybe, without realising, you have been unfair or unkind in the past, or there is a communication gap. Before you go any further, it is essential you clarify what the issue is, what your role is, and what the role of the colleague is. 

Address it objectively

The best and the safest approach is to talk individually to the said colleague in a non-confrontational, yet assertive; professional, yet polite manner. Communicate the problem from your perspective, and make suggestions to find a common ground and avoid such problems in the future. You have no clue why your colleague is being difficult, and mostly, it has got nothing to do with you in the first place, and at other times, people unknowingly become aggressive or vindictive.

Having an honest conversation can nip the problem in the bud and give you both a chance to collaborate in the future. 

Find your Zen

If a colleague makes jokes at your expenses, or talks behind your back, do not be tempted to react to every thorn thrown at your way. Although this might consciously require practicing mindfulness, with practice you can choose to pick your battles, or even react with light and appropriate humour to diffuse an otherwise tense situation. The psychology behind this is simple: if the intended action fails to illicit a reaction from you, not only do you come across as more professional; chances are it won’t be repeated again. 

If nothing works, involve somebody else

If extending an olive branch or ignoring doesn’t work, and the said colleague still holds angst, it might be best to consult someone you both know. Find out if you are singled out, or if an entire team/department has to take the heat, if the colleague has such history with others as well, and what your professional options are to formally lodge a complaint.

Consider all your options and experiences carefully and decide if you want to involve your boss or some other colleague, formally or informally, to get their opinion. 

The bottom-line is that once you are aware that a colleague is holding a grudge or hostility towards you, it is better you make an attempt to resolve the conflict than let the misunderstanding prevail or vow to get back at them. Very importantly, dissociate the person from the issue at hand, and look at them separately, to have a better understanding. A little introspection might actually lead you to believe that maybe you are the one who is at fault, and in such a situation, an earnest apology is needed. Being difficult towards a co-worker is easy, for there are plenty of options to undermine someone professionally, but if you can take a step back and make an effort to resolve the tension, you will be the real winner, no matter who is at fault. 

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Topics: Employee Relations

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