How to Deal with Negative Co-Workers
It is inevitable. There is always going to be someone you work with who just…rubs you the wrong way. Or gets in your way. Or knocks you out of their way. Whatever the details, a bad co-worker doesn’t just ruin your day, it can ruin your whole job. And, if left unchecked, it can even damage your career if their actions push you too far.
So how do you deal with them before it reaches that point? There are a number of methods and tactics, but here are our top five favorites. We’ve saved the most extreme option for last, but the rest are in no particular order.
- Make sure you understand the workplace
A lot of conflicts can come up within the first few weeks of starting a new job, and this can easily lead you to think that you have (or are going to have) a problem with a co-worker. Before assuming the worst, make sure you understand the workplace and the culture of the company you work for. Two of the largest, most prolific companies in the world right now, companies that are largely considered utopic by outsiders, are rife with radical tales of cutthroat tactics and backstabbing. Regularly throwing co-workers under the bus and blaming personal failures on less savvy co-workers is commonplace, all in the name of productivity and success. So before you think there might be a specific problem with a specific co-worker, first make sure that you and the company are a good fit for each other, and that you can handle the workplace.
- Make sure you understand the co-worker
If the workplace is conducive to cooperation and collaboration (and the vast majority of them are), make sure that you’re not taking things personally when they’re not meant to be. We all take pride in our work, so it’s very easy to take criticism personally when someone comments on your work, but take yourself out of the equation and see how you feel. Everybody communicates differently, so before you take action, take a moment first to make sure that you’re properly hearing what they’re saying and understanding what they’re doing.
- Stay away, stay silent
It may not be a question of work, necessarily, that is causing trouble at work, but simply an annoying co-worker. As we said before, some people just rub you the wrong way. It’s not a failing on your part or theirs, you’re just two different people. And while you don’t have to be friends with the people you work with, you do have to, y’know, work with them. So if someone won’t shut up about the game last weekend, or they insist on talking about what happened on the latest hit show, just get away from them. If they insist on pushing a confrontation of some kind, you can simply say, “Hey, I don’t want to shut you down, but I’ve really gotta get this done so let’s catch up another time.” (You can re-word the script to fit your own style/tone/personality.)
- Arm yourself
With knowledge. A frequent cause of strife between co-workers is when one tries to exert influence, power, or knowledge over another. If that is the case (someone you work with is trying to make you look bad in order to make themselves look better), then you need to make absolutely 100% sure you know your stuff. Find references and sources to back up your work, and keep them handy. Should the question ever arise, you can easily (and in front of others) assert your professional knowledge, and then back it up with a mountain of citations and sources.
- Go above their head
This is truly the last resort and should only be used if all else fails. If you are truly at a complete standstill on how to handle someone that is making your life a living hell at the workplace, speak to your supervisor about it and let them know. Don’t be aggressive and certainly don’t look to place blame, but be honest about how it’s affecting your work, and how you’re having trouble accommodating them. Don’t make it personal, and always make sure that you’re placing the needs of the team and the company above your own. Managers have a duty to the company as well as the employees, so if it’s a serious problem, they will want to resolve it, and should be willing to work with you to come to a solution—whether it means transferring one of you, or simply making sure that work assignments don’t lead to the two of you having to interact too much (or at all).
At the end of the day, you owe it to yourself and your company to deal with a toxic coworker. Do so politely and respectfully, and you’ll always come out the hero.