Learning to Communicate With Difficult Co-Workers

No matter where you work, there's always some difficult co-workers you're going to have to deal with. Instead of wishing the situation away, which never works, it's time to learn how to perfect your skills for dealing with them.

Difficult people and situations at work can be challenging. Sometimes it may feel as if there’s no middle ground. Conversations can be hurtful and irritating. Although no one really describes these co-workers as fun to deal with, you need to.

These people can be difficult in a variety of ways. Some constantly talk and don’t ever listen to what others have to say. Some criticize others publicly. Some will compete for power and consistently try to be the center of all employee recognition programs. Others can be difficult because of their many failed commitments.

Whatever the reason you believe a co-worker is difficult, it’s time to learn how to handle the situation.

Change Your Mindset

The best tip we can give anyone dealing with a difficult work situation is to change your mindset. Stop looking at those difficult coworkers as a constant pain that you’re just going to have to put up with until one of you leaves the company. Instead, view them as a challenge — a challenge where you are looking to learn how to better interact with difficult people. Seek out what you can learn from them to add to your existing skill set and make yourself a better employee and overall more well-rounded person.

When you have a more open mindset, it allows you to be more resourceful. Your creativity becomes more fluid. This allows you to come up with new ways of dealing with difficult co-workers where you both walk away from the situation satisfied. With an open mindset, you’ll also come to notice that the little things difficult people did in the past, now really don’t bother you anymore.

Start By Looking At Yourself

We know this is not what you want to hear — you see the difficult person as the one in the wrong, but hear us out. Sometimes consistent complaining to others about difficult co-workers can amplify just how difficult you perceive them. What exactly did they do that upset you?

It’s common for someone to get overly upset about another person when they are provoked during a bad time. Was what the coworker did really that bad or did it just seem worse because you were under a lot of stress at that time? Start by analyzing what the difficult co-workers have specifically done to you.

When you start getting specific it’s likely that you may find their actions weren’t that bad. You might even find that you’ve done the same thing in the past when you weren’t in a clear emotional state. Take the time to evaluate the actions of these difficult co-workers to identify if you’re overreacting.

This shouldn’t be based on what the coworkers did to other people either. Only judge co-workers’ actions based off of what you see with your own eyes.

Approach The Person For A Private Discussion

Don’t group up with other coworkers and publicly call out the problem co-worker. No one likes feeling like their being grouped up on. Most people will just shut off and ignore any suggestions from others.

Instead, ask to speak to the problem person in a private manner. This personal one-on-one talk will allow you to express your thoughts and problems with the other person without being overly judgmental.

Focus the conversation more on how you are feeling. Use ‘I’ expressions instead of using ‘You’ expressions. This will inform the problem co-worker of what your angle is and be less confrontation towards their actions.

It’s important to remember that everyone comes from a different background. If you had difficult parents growing up that expected the best with no excuses, you may be passing those traits on to other employees. Or if your family is very open about judging how you look in clothing, for example, it may come as natural to judge other people out loud without even thinking about it.

Take into consideration that the difficult co-worker may not even realize the impact of what they’re doing. Enlightening them about how their actions affect you will open up another view they may have never known before. Again, we want to stress the importance of having a discussion in a private environment where you can both be seen as equals. The difficult person will be more susceptible to what you’re saying when others aren’t around to judge them.

By JP George

About the author

JP George grew up in a small town in Washington. After receiving a Master’s degree in Public Relations, JP has worked in a variety of positions, from agencies to corporations all across the globe. Experience has made JP an expert in topics relating to leadership, talent management, and organizational business.

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