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By Rhymer Rigby
It’s impossible for us to get along with everyone. Here are 9 steps to make the best of tense work relationships.
Colleagues are a bit like your family. You don’t get to choose them, but you have to spend a lot of time with them. So what do you do about a co-worker you really don’t like? Can you change the relationship or find ways of coping? How do you make the best of the situation?
- You need to deal with the problem. If you don’t, it will only get worse and may build up until it becomes a far bigger issue than it should be. But here’s the good part: Dealing with the problem might involve nothing more than saying to yourself, “Claire annoys me and she’s difficult, but I’ve looked at the options, and the best choice is simply to let it wash over me.” This may seem the same as ignoring it, but it’s not. You have taken control and made a conscious decision.
- Tell yourself that it’s not that bad. We are never going to get on with everyone, nor should we expect to. Claire, in this example, will never be a good friend, but she needn’t be a mortal enemy. Worrying about her behavior is really rather ridiculous — and there are far worse things. Perhaps you can make a game of it and turn making her tolerable into a personal challenge. The last suggestion may sound childish, but it can be surprisingly effective and satisfying.
- Sometimes all you need to do is talk to the person. You should go in gently here — because the individual may not realize that their behavior has a negative impact on you. Indeed, in many situations, even if the other person is oblivious, a quiet word is all it takes.
- Don’t embarrass the person. You can get your message across without letting the entire office know. The bad way to bring up someone’s faults is to say in front of several other people, “Jeff, the tuna sandwiches you eat at your desk make the whole office stink and make me feel sick. You need to stop doing it now.” Instead, you might ask Jeff for a chat when nobody else is around. You would then say, “I hate to do this, Jeff, but I really struggle with the smell of tuna sandwiches. Is there any chance you could eat them in the cafeteria or the break-out space? You’d really be doing me a huge favor.” In the first situation, you accuse Jeff of being the problem. In the second, it’s about how you feel. In the first, you embarrass Jeff in front of other people. In the second, you are discreet. In the first, you give Jeff an order. In the second, you appeal to him for help and offer a solution.
- Learn from others’ coping strategies. Perhaps Michael, who sits next to you, has found a way of dealing with Pam that enables him to accept her behavior and actually get on with her. Whenever you bring up the subject of a difficult colleague, you should be careful. The person you are talking to may be good friends with the individual you dislike. So again, make it about you: “I’m struggling to deal with Pam’s requests and was wondering if you had any advice.”
- Differentiate between the person and the behavior. This will help you not to fixate on hating the person. You may even get to a stage where you think, “Jim is very loud on the phone because he has adopted a big, outgoing persona to hide his insecurities.” Do this well, and you could even find yourself feeling empathy for him.
- If all else fails, minimize your exposure. Make your interactions as transactional as possible. Deal with them in a work sense and not a personal sense. Do a good job, be polite, and leave it at that. Communicate by email where possible, but keep it professional, not passive-aggressive. Ask your boss not to put you on tasks together if at all possible.
- Make sure the conflict doesn’t affect work. This advice assumes that you have only a personality conflict with the individual or minor objections to behaviors. If someone is damaging your work or reputation or undermining you, then it is a very different matter and you may need to document the behavior and involve your boss or HR.
- And if they ruin your every working day? In this case, you will have to move, either to a new department or a new organization. Obviously, this is not ideal. But it is preferable to hating every minute of work. Moreover, if one person can make you that miserable in your job, chances are there are other things wrong, too, so moving on may be a good idea.
Rhymer Rigby is an FM magazine contributor and author of The Careerist: Over 100 Ways to Get Ahead at Work. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Neil Amato, an FM magazine senior editor, at Neil.Amato@aicpa-cima.com.
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