Helpful Hints for Dealing with Difficult Coworkers

one coworker frustrated with another

Nothing is more frustrating than having to constantly deal with difficult coworkers. They drain you of your time and energy, and encounters with them leave your frustrated, angry and stressed out. There are steps you can take, however, to better manage your interactions with them.

The first step in dealing with difficult coworkers is recognizing that while you can’t change your difficult coworkers, you can change your reaction to them.

According to Bacal: “Annoying behaviors are truly in the eye of the beholder. That’s why one person may be bothered by certain behaviors, and others are not. Our reactions to these behaviors come from within ourselves; they are based on our perception that the other person’s behavior isn’t consistent with what we’d do and we don’t like that. Thus, their behaviors annoy us. But the reality is, no matter how much we’d like to, we can’t ‘fix’ another person. What we can do is work at changing our reactions to someone who annoys or frustrates us.”

Changing your reaction to a coworker’s behavior can be accomplished by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Is this person worth getting upset over?
  • Is this person’s behavior really destructive?
  • Is this person’s behavior truly affecting me, or am I just letting it affect me?
  • Can I let this person’s behavior go and move on?

In many situations, you will find that by changing your perception, you’ll reduce your negative reactions to your coworkers’ difficult, annoying behaviors.

At times when you find you are affected by difficult coworkers’ behaviors, it’s vital that you meet with them in a non-confrontational way to discuss and resolve the problem.

The DUIRR- Technique is a proactive, positive approach to dealing with difficult co-workers. In five steps, you can work through your annoyance and frustration with your co-workers while building your relationship with them.

Step 1: Determine your involvement. Determine if you are truly involved in this situation, and if so, to what level you are affected. Often, we find we are annoyed by others’ behaviors that are not directed at us. In those situations, change your perception and reaction to the behavior, and let it go. If you are directly affected by the behavior, move on to Step #2.

Step 2: Understand the other person. When dealing with difficult people, it’s easy to get caught up in the emotions of the moment. Instead, try to understand where they’re coming from. Take a deep breath, and really listen. Do not interrupt or try to argue your position. Repeat back what was said to ensure you understand their perspective. Ask questions to clarify anything that is unclear.

Step 3: Influence his/her attitude. State specifically, in a non-confrontational way, how the behavior has affected you. Use “I-You” statements: “I feel humiliated when you yell at me in front of our coworkers”; “I cannot meet my deadline when you refuse to complete your part of the project on time.” Do not try to place blame or find fault; rather, focus on preventing the problem from recurring in the future.

Step 4: Resolve the problem. Discuss the cause and effect of the problem behavior and ways to deal with it. Ask questions to get information, rather than just stating opinions. Remember, you can’t change someone’s personality, but you can adapt your reactions to it.

Step 5: Recover and go on. Once the problem behavior is addressed, don’t hold a grudge. Let the incident go and move on. Dwelling on it will only increase your levels of stress and frustration.

Dealing with difficult people in the workplace is not as hopeless as it seems. Through open, ongoing communication from supervisors and coworkers, difficult employees can, over time, learn more acceptable behaviors. While there is no single, simple remedy, the techniques described above will go a long way in helping your organization overcome this challenging problem.

Nancy Aldrich, M.A. is superintendent of human resources with the Arlington Heights Park District and serves on several committees for the Administration and Finance Section of the Illinois Park and Recreation Association. She has also served as part-time faculty with Roosevelt University. Contact Aldrich at naldrich@ahpd.org.)

(Excerpted from “Taming the Difficult Employee” by Nancy Aldrich, M.A. Used by permission.)

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