Top 5 Tips to Deal with Difficult Workmates
During my years of full-time white-collar employment since 2007, I've certainly had my share of being confronted by difficult workmates and managers. In general, anyone who's worked long enough has been faced with this situation and while some situations can been dealt with peacefully and in an amicable fashion, others might not be easy with more extreme cases resulting in escalation of the matter to higher levels of management, intervention by HR or even unwanted attention from the media.
Nevertheless, dealing with stress which arises from handling difficult workmates, managers or even subordinates doesn't have to be too hard, if certain steps are taken to nip certain behaviors and traits in the bud.
The Silent Treatment
This is usually the preferred option for many people in an office rather than open conflict or confrontation to deal with a difficult workmate, especially when they're new to the company or the team.
Despite how some people might prefer dealing with a situation like this head-on, the silent treatment is sometimes a preferred option as it not only gives the indication that you're the bigger person than to get involved in someone else's squabble - but it also proves to your manager that you are watchful about how to behave within a work environment (especially if it is a corporate one).
Difficult workmates can be difficult due to many reasons - they're probably just having a bad day, are testing how well you cope under pressure, are probably bullies or are just plain insecure - ignorance can sometimes truly be bliss and is usually the healthier and smarter option in the long run.
The Quiet Confrontation
Sometimes, you'd realize that the difficult workmate or bully is not backing off despite your repeatedly ignoring him or her with the intent they'll get the message you're not interested in their childish mind-games - you should try to resolve the situation privately and without much noise.
Depending on your relationship with this workmate, a short and to the point e-mail or perhaps a quiet conversation outside the confines of your desks usually does the trick - in this way, the matter has the potential to be amicably resolved without the need to escalate it any further.
What this also does is also probably strengthen a strained relationship which might work for not only the 'victim' but also the 'bully' who'll begin coming to terms with who they've been,
Escalating to your boss
When you realize that plain ignorance or quietly confronting your difficult workmate to stop their quips is not producing the desired result, the next obvious choice will be to escalate the matter to your immediate manager (who might then escalate it to the workmate's manager if they belong to another team).
This course of action should usually be used once you've exhausted more 'informal' approaches to resolve the situation as there're a few reasons why this tactic can backfire:
- Your boss, if not an objective person and shows favoritism towards certain colleagues including the one causing you grief, might not be very fair towards you in dealing with this situation
- Your boss might not be too sympathetic to how the issue might be personally affecting you and might just ask you to 'take it up the chin'.
- Your boss might, without any rhyme or reason, share the same feelings as your co-worker might about you and the escalation could mean further isolation.
If however, you are convinced that your manager is a decent person and will look at your situation objectively, you should by all means escalate the confrontation and bullying to them if it comes to the point you're unable to deal with it on your own terms.
Escalating to higher authorities or HR
Not a path I'd personally ever recommend taking, but not one you should completely ignore either.
Sometimes and in more rare cases one discovers that their plead for help is repeatedly going unnoticed and their attempts to resolve the matter using informal and diplomatic methods are also going in vain.
Ever noticed that your boss only seems to listen to and entertain certain people among your team despite all of you being equal? Ever noticed the boss refuses to acknowledge or hear what you're telling him or her? If these two situations or more sound at all familiar, there's a good chance you need to escalate the double standards and favoritism higher, possibly to higher levels of management or even HR - use the latter only if you have sufficient evidence that there's blatant unfairness taking place and make sure you document each and every moment you feel you've been treated or spoken to differently as you will be asked for sufficient proof of someone being difficult or unfair.
The benefit of this could be that you'll come out victorious with some formal performance management for people who've been causing you grief but the downside could be further chaos in your professional life due to a setback in your reputation as the whistle blower and the complainer.
Quitting and Starting Over
When all other options get exhausted, the very uncomfortable but final straw to draw is usually to request a transfer to another team or to quit.
I personally never recommend quitting just because you're unable to stand certain people around you - you should be way bigger than that; but I can also understand the psychological and emotional impact repeated bullying and confrontations can have on people at work, considering they have to travel there each and every day, risking the same situation again and again.
At the end of the day, your mental and emotional peace should trump everything else and if you're able to help it, leaving certain things in the past and starting afresh should be the way to go if nothing else seems to work - at the end of the day, you'd at least be taking some healthy life-experience with you.
Hopefully this article serves as a brief illustration of what one can do when faced with difficult situations or people at work.
Remember, it is never easy dealing with stress and conflict which arises from trying to pin down a difficult workmate or a work environment, hence its vital to weigh all your options carefully before exercising them so that you don't accidentally burn down any bridges.