Lots of people don’t like their jobs. Less than half of people in a recent poll believe they are in “good jobs.” Except what if your problem isn’t with the position but with a person? We’ve all had to deal with difficult people. From bullies in middle school to narcissists in college, unpleasant personalities can make an entire experience equally unpleasant. Not getting along with a coworker (or coworkers) is one of the top reasons people look for new jobs. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic upended employment. Even in “normal” times, changing jobs isn’t easy. So before you quit, here’s a few ideas about how to work with a difficult coworker.
I know, I know. Confrontations aren’t fun. Then again, neither is filing for unemployment. So, try to find a time to have an open discussion with the person causing you pain. Do this away from others. It’s possible your co-worker doesn’t realize their behavior is making you unhappy. If they do and don’t care, well you’ve still learned something useful.
When you speak to them, try to use “I” phrases instead of “you” phrases. Say something along the lines of “I feel upset when you speak to me that way,” rather than “You are a big mean jerk.” Sometimes, having a conversation really helps. Other times it may be up to you to rise about their negativity. Remember, their behavior isn’t worth your productivity. You may also need to remind yourself that their attitude predates your relationship. Negative or toxic people rarely take ownership –– they blame others. You are not the reason they are the way they are.
There’s a reason camouflage is a topnotch survival strategy in the animal kingdom. It works. Rather than becoming lion bait, see if you can pursue projects separate from this difficult personality. Volunteer for opportunities where they aren’t on the team. If possible, relocate to another desk or even floor. This may not be the most realistic solution to how to work with a difficult coworker for everyone, but if you can do this, do it.
3. Take it to Another Level
Sometimes, you just have to tell. if your coworker is engaging in harassing or triggering behavior, it definitely needs to be addressed. If they are doing things that are dangerous or illegal, that has to be brought to the attention of higher ups. Although it came out a few years ago, one study suggested that over one-third of workers have been bullied at work. If you feel unsafe, you shouldn’t try to tough it out. HR exists for a reason. You needn’t file a formal complaint. Remember, companies don’t want to lose talented, trained employees. Chances are they will appreciate you bringing this to their attention rather than just quitting. There could be solutions you didn’t even know were available.
Bet you thought I was going to tell you to stick it out no matter what? Please. Life is too short to be miserable. It’s also important to make sure your co-worker issue isn’t something that will follow you to another job. Some of us have a tendency to attract trouble. Still, quitting may be your best solution. To paraphrase Forgetting Sarah Marshall, “When life gives you lemons, you say the heck with lemons and bail!”
Have a plan in place. Perhaps polishing your resume and submitting to job postings will make going in to work easier. Knowing you only have to endure in the short term can help. You should also have some money saved. Finally, before you leave make sure your supervisor and HR knows the reason. It’s possible the company’s top performer is so toxic that the cost isn’t worth it.
One unstated advantage to remote work is how it’s made it easier to deal with difficult co-workers. Perhaps your best strategy is just staying away from the office and the difficult co-worker.
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