How to get along with a difficult coworker

Businesswoman using computer in the office. Stress in the office

If you work 40 or more hours per week, you may be spending more time with coworkers than members of your family. Like family members, some coworkers can be more challenging for you than others. And while you never know what stress or difficulties someone else might be going through, how you deal with difficult coworkers can affect your job satisfaction and productivity. In turn, that can affect your mental – or even physical – health.

WellTuned spoke with Derek Laymon, an organizational learning consultant for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, to learn how to get along with a difficult coworker—and what to do if their attitude begins to affect your ability to work effectively.

How to recognize a difficult coworker

Derek Laymon: Negativity can take a toll on a productive working environment. You can feel confused, exhausted, unsure of yourself, frustrated or even guilty when interacting with a negative or difficult colleague.

So, the first step in identifying a work relationship that isn’t beneficial to both parties is recognizing the negativity.

Since the beginning of a relationship can set the tone for future engagement and communication, you want to pay attention to potential signs from the outset. For example, be aware of:

  • Frequent complaining
  • Consistent criticism of others
  • Focusing on the negative or harder tasks without helping to find solutions
  • Gossiping
  • Lack of accountability
  • Avoiding responsibilities

Also, if you’re feeling like you’re being micromanaged, that can be a problem. Micromanagement indicates a lack of trust and respect for their coworkers’ abilities.

Note: you can still disagree with a coworker and have a healthy, productive relationship with them. But constant disagreements or conflict can also take a toll on you.

Strategies for success

Derek Laymon: Once you’re aware you’re dealing with a difficult coworker, figure out what to do about the situation. First, it’s important for you to set healthy boundaries so you can focus on your own goals and tasks. This includes taking time for self-care and engaging in activities that help you to flourish in your work environment. Review your own work and remind yourself that you are making a positive contribution to your company.

You may need to try a few other strategies, too. Other proven strategies include:

  • Maintain your own professionalism
  • Try to be positive
  • Remain composed and calm under pressure
  • Keep interactions focused only on work-related matters
  • Avoid conversations that aren’t productive to the work you’re doing
  • Consider asking for professional help, if needed

If a coworker’s negativity is affecting your work, it’s okay to seek help. Talk to your supervisor or your HR representative who can provide professional advice.

Practice self-awareness

Derek Laymon: Unfortunately, negativity can be contagious. When someone is consistently negative, it can start to affect you, even with your best efforts to remain positive. Negativity can even spread throughout an entire team, leading to a loss of productivity and decreasing morale.

You can help the rest of the team by practicing self-awareness. Are you aware of your own actions and how they may be affecting others? Are you doing your best to bring positivity to counteract the negativity? You never know exactly what someone else is going through. They may be under a great deal of pressure or feel stressed or anxious. When you can be self-aware and put others first, you can be an uplifting presence in the workplace.

Spreading positivity to others, especially those with a negative perspective, can add tremendous value and a chance to change that perspective. That can help everyone in the workplace.

Derek Laymon on how to take criticism productively.

Jennifer Larson

Jennifer Larson is Nashville-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years of experience. She specializes in health care and family issues.

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