In a nutshell: You don’t always get to choose your coworkers, but there are ways to manage your relationships with the ones that irritate you.
In your social life, you get to choose who you hang out with. In the working world, this isn’t true. You must interact with coworkers, managers and clients, and there’s a strong likelihood that you won’t enjoy dealing with every one of them. Even self-employed people who sequester themselves in home offices are not immune to the possibility of unpleasant people at work — after all, they must communicate regularly with customers, collaborators and vendors.
Since there’s no way to eliminate irritating people in the workplace, your best strategy is to learn to cope with them in a way that promotes harmony and respect. Keep these three P’s in mind: be polite, professional and positive. Here are some tips for making the best of a bad situation:
Be an Adult
Given the amount of time we spend at work — by our calculations, it’s more than 2,000 hours a year, give or take a few hours to account for overtime and vacations — it may be hard to be the bigger person in every situation. It’s tempting to give into fear and anger when dealing with a frustrating individual, which can provoke a schoolyard response.
Our advice: Don’t do it. Simply force yourself not to, even though it might not feel good to restrain yourself. Remember that sometimes being an adult means you don’t get to say everything that’s on your mind.
Six Sigma Online points out that emotional maturity is related to the ability to control anger and personal feelings: “You simply need to let it go, relax, and focus on the task at hand, which is your work.”
It’s perfectly acceptable to discuss a difficult situation with your close colleagues, but don’t let these conversations cross the line into gossip. Gossip can be interpreted as a personal attack on the problematic individual. It can make others question your ability to be objective about the situation and willingness to work toward a solution.
In addition, these conversations might get back to the target of the gossip, which can worsen an already irritating situation.
Deflect the Negativity
If you don’t like a coworker because he or she has a negative outlook, make sure you’re not allowing him or her to bring you down as well. The best way to achieve this is to reduce the amount of time you spend them. However, this might not be possible in every workplace situation.
The Balance, a financial and professional development website, lists a handful of helpful tips for dealing with negative people. Some of them are:
- Set limits to interactions with negative people
- Suggest the person seek assistance from their manager or human resources professional
- Talk to your own manager about the situation
If you’re a manager, it’s important to deal promptly with a negative employee. There’s a strong chance that he or she is dragging down morale, which can have a strong impact on productivity.
If the disagreeable person is affecting your ability to work effectively, it’s probably time to report the issue to your manager. Simply saying that you don’t like someone won’t suffice. Your manager needs substantive information.
- Be able to identify the specific problem that the difficult employee brings to the workplace
- Hold a formal meeting with the manager, instead of just bringing up the issue in the hallway
- Be prepared for a two-way dialogue, instead of just venting
- Talk about possible next steps
If the Situation Deteriorates, Take Action Right Away
There’s a difference between an employee that you don’t like and one that’s actually hostile toward you. If you fear the situation might get worse, start documenting your interactions with the employee, in case you need to report them later. If you are being bullied, go to a manager or human resources immediately. Bullying can affect more than your workplace performance — it can negatively impact your home life and health.
If you don’t know if you’re being bullied, check out the early warning signs at the Workplace Bullying Institute website.