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Build Your Career Office Life

Difficult Co-Worker? Don't Get Defensive

Difficult Co-Worker? Don't Get Defensive
Credit: Digital Genetics/Shutterstock

Every office has at least one employee or boss who can't seem to get along with anyone. Whether this person actively antagonizes co-workers or simply has a difficult personality, he or she can strain workplace relationships and, in some cases, impede productivity for other employees.

If a colleague is getting in the way of your daily tasks, the first thing you should do is determine whether that person's behavior is actual bullying or if there's just a communication barrier. With the latter, the problem can usually be remedied by changing your perspective, said Kerry Preston, co-author of "Enhancing Your Executive Edge" (McGraw-Hill, 2014) and a partner at professional development organization Image Dynamics.

"Do not let [co-workers] live rent-free in your brain and hurt your edge because they are difficult to work with," Preston told Business News Daily. "Think about your goal when communicating with them and separate your goal from the personality. Learn their style and how to adapt to reach your goal in each situation."

Kim Zoller, Preston's co-author and another partner at Image Dynamics, advised being humble and logical in situations with difficult colleagues, and noted that remaining calm is key. [Why You Should Confront Your Abusive Boss]

"Make sure you do not point the finger, blame or get defensive," Zoller said. "Go to the person and say, 'I would like to make sure that we work more successfully together. What do you need from me to make that happen?' Do what you need to do to make the outcome successful. If you change your attitude, you never know what could happen."

Taking the time to get to know the difficult co-worker, understand his or her communication preferences, consider his or her points of view, and truly listen to his or her responses when you ask questions can really improve your experience with that person, Preston and Zoller said.

In the case of bullying, however, finding a solution goes beyond changing your approach to interactions. Calmly and nonjudgmentally confronting a bully is a good start, but the person's behavior should be brought to the attention of your supervisor or human resources department.

"Bullying is an organizational issue, not an individual employee issue," said Chris Edmonds, author of "The Culture Engine: A Framework for Driving Results, Inspiring Your Employees, and Transforming Your Workplace" (John Wiley & Sons, September 2014). "The organization must be made aware — immediately— of the bullying behavior so it can be addressed. Good employers want to know when bullying behavior happens and will act to address it promptly."

If you're comfortable telling the bully directly that his or her behavior is threatening and intimidating, it will make the bully aware that the behavior is unacceptable, Edmonds said. Disengaging in this way will take away the one thing that gives a bully power: the target's fear and anxiety. But some people may not want to cause further confrontation, so in this case, the best response is to simply walk away. As Zoller pointed out, getting defensive is not the answer and will usually only make the situation worse.

If you've addressed a difficult colleague's behavior directly and brought it up to your supervisor, but haven't seen any improvements, it might be time to think about switching jobs, Edmonds said.

"If a target [of bullying] raises the issue and his or her employer does nothing, that is a clear indication that the employee needs to find a job with a different employer that does not tolerate bullying."

Originally published on Business News Daily

Nicole Fallon

Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the managing editor. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.

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