Toxic Co-Worker? Here’s What To Do
Learn how to handle a difficult colleague
It’s a tough situation when there’s a co-worker who is hard to get along with. It’s not always easy to know the right thing to do, without negatively impacting your job.
Should you talk to your boss? Should you discuss with HR? Should you confront your co-worker?
Find out the best way to handle this situation.
Aim for positive change
Ranging from a mild annoyance to a major source of distress, a toxic relationship with a coworker can impair your productivity, your career prospects, and even your ability to derive satisfaction from your work, so it’s important to try to remedy them. Here are three tips that provide a basis for positive change, from Jim Hjort, founder of the Right Life Project:
Do the unexpected – Find a quality of the person that you can genuinely appreciate and compliment them on it. It may be difficult to swallow your pride and say something nice, but difficulty is a good sign: a sign that what you’re doing isn’t consistent with the existing (dysfunctional) relationship dynamics.
The idea here is that when one person changes their role in a relationship, it forces the other person to change theirs, and when you’re talking about adversaries, that usually provides the opportunity for improvement.
Try listening first – Especially if you tried the last tip and it produced an opening for dialogue, you can capitalize on the opportunity by communicating in a healthy, non-confrontational way. There are two techniques to bear in mind, one of which is reflective listening.
This involves, first of all, listening carefully and attentively to the other person’s concerns—not pretending to listen while you’re actually rehearsing your response in your mind. Then restate the other person’s position in your own words and ask if you got it right. Keep going until you both agree that you understand what their perspective is (even if you don’t agree with it).
Then try “I Statements" – When it’s your turn to share your perspective, make sure to use “I statements” in the form of “when you _______, I feel _______.” This structure requires you to express yourself in a matter-of-fact way and retain ownership of your own emotions.
If the conversation becomes emotionally charged, it may be difficult to keep from lapsing into “you” statements: “You always _____. You never ______. You make me ______.” Notice how these sound blaming? People hearing “you” statements tend to shut down, and when that happens the parties tend to retreat to their separate corners, ending the opportunity for positive change.
“You have no direct control over the behavior of other people, but since relationships are systems of mutual influence, your behavior has significant power to transform the relationship and your workplace environment. So give it a try. After all, the worst that can happen is that nothing changes but, given what’s at stake, the potential upside is probably worth the effort,” Hjort said.
Figure out the issue
The hardest thing to do is the "soft stuff" according to Moe Carrick, principal and founder of Moementum Inc.
"Hate is a strong word, but in my experiences many teams and companies actually fail because individuals are unable to remedy broken or low trust relationships at work. In my experience there are a few key steps:
- Spend time thinking about what is the issue for you with them, exactly. Ask what emotions get triggered by them. Consider what you may be doing to contribute to the relationship being sour (we know that broken relationships are never 100% responsibility of one person.) Decide if this relationship is worth mending.
- Repairing a broken partnership requires rebuilding trust, which paradoxically requires being vulnerable with the other person: owning your contribution, listening to their concerns, and committing to making things better by asking first what you can do differently.
- Remember you don't have to be or become friends, but how can you act with respect and grace so as not to damage other key relationships around you.
Whatever you do, try to work it out, and don't let bad feelings fester. You'll have a happier workplace if you talk about what's wrong.