You can’t choose your coworkers, but you can choose your wine… We’re kidding, but seriously, work is stressful enough on its own without office politics. Whether it’s dealing with the little things or just a plain toxic monster, a strained relationship with a colleague won’t just wear you down—it will inevitably wreak havoc on your work performance. Here, find expert tips for dealing with it the best you way you can (because a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon alone won’t do the trick).
Define what your “case” is against this person
Much like lawyers, we develop a case by accumulating evidence and find others who validate our points. “What we sometimes fail to realize is that our own case building keeps the challenging dynamics in play and keeps us struggling,” explains Meredith Haberfeld, co-founder of the Institute for Coaching.
To start to shift the dynamics, consider:
- When did you start making a case against this person?
- What’s your evidence? Make a list about what you don’t like about them and all the evidence that you have collected.
- Why do you feel justified in making them wrong?
Separate the hard facts versus your interpretation
When we combine facts with our interpretations, it yields a jumbled reality.
Example: “Since August, Jane responds to my voice messages with emails and rather than calling me back.”
Interpretation: “Jane avoids talking to me”
“It takes separating our interpretations, no matter how many people we find who agree with our interpretations, from the facts and data to begin to shake the dynamics loose,” explains Haberfeld.
If possible, limit interaction
If you’ve gotten to the point where you’re tirelessly irritated by a coworker, limit your interaction with them as much as possible. Remember: misery loves company.
“Be friendly, cordial, polite, and manage your own behavior to ensure you don’t get pulled into gossiping,” says Vicki Salemi, careers expert for Monster. “If he or she complains all of the time, pause before you say something negative, too.”
Shift your attitude and leverage it in your favor
Hey, this might just be the most beneficial learning experience of your career. “In the midst of a tedious or tense situation it may not feel this way, but it’s an opportunity to grow beyond your comfort zone,” explains Salemi. Plus, you can leverage it as a chance to make yourself look good by leaving emotions out of the workplace and demonstrating the utmost professionalism.
Start a conversation
It depends on the situation, but more often than not, having a private, direct conversation—not a confrontation—can help. “There are some things you won’t be able to change at all about the person, but if the irritation is related to the job and can be changed, you may want to address it,” says Salemi.
If you want to map it our beforehand, Haberfeld has got your four-step formula:
- Tell the person what hasn’t worked and generously invite their feedback
- Share what your interpretations have been—recognize that this might not necessarily be the truth.
- Make clear requests by flipping your original complaints into forward-looking suggestions.
- Invite their feedback, and listen generously.
If push comes to shove, and nothing’s changed, it’s probably time to address the issue with your boss. “When the issue turns in to one that affects your performance, and that of your colleagues, it is necessary to say something,” says Salemi. Be professional and explain the situation, as well as how it impacts your work on a daily basis.
Find a new job
Sometimes dire situations are gifts in disguise. “This may be precisely the push you needed to fully engage in the job search,” explains Salemi. “This experience will help you understand the kind of work environment you do want to be in as you start exploring new options externally.”