Tips for Working with Colleagues You Struggle to Get Along With
26 Feb 2021
You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your co-workers. The reality of life means we are sometimes going to work with people who get under our skin. It can be draining, distracting and frustrating.
You wish they would find another job or disappear off into the sunset, and if you could, you would like to avoid the person altogether. While you may not be able to change the situation or a colleague’s behaviour, there are steps you can take to move toward a healthier, positive and more productive relationship.
Is It You or Them?
You're probably convinced the problem lies with the other person, but a little introspection is a good starting point. Just because you struggle to get along with someone doesn't necessarily mean they're universally disliked. Are you contributing to the situation in any way? Do you wish you had their job? Are there specific behaviours that set you off? Are they just totally different from you? By understanding better what pushes your buttons, you may be able to see your role in the situation.
Also, be aware of the attribution bias, which is when we're quick to blame other people's mistakes on something personal about them while blaming our own shortcomings on external factors. For example, if you're late for a meeting, it's because of a heavy workload or traffic, but if someone else is late, it's because, in your opinion, they're lazy.
It is an easy trap to fall into, griping with your colleagues about how awful someone is. But badmouthing a co-worker with snarky comments can bring everyone down and make you look bad. It also does nothing to resolve the problem. If you do need to vent, pick a person, preferably outside of work and discuss the issue with them.
Have a Conversation
If you are struggling to get along with someone because of a personality clash, that can be difficult to fix. There are always going to be people in the world that we don't gel with. We are all wired with different likes and dislikes. If there is tension because of a couple of heated incidents or your colleague is doing something that upsets you, that can be easier to resolve. Have a heart-to-heart, a private and civil conversation. Be specific and reasonable but not accusatory or rude, which may put the other person on the defensive.
Explain how you would like to work together to get past the problem. Who knows, you could end up having a friendly and enjoyable relationship. But even if not, there is nothing to lose by having a respectful conversation.
Manage How You React
Not everyone will be able to discuss their problems with a colleague. Perhaps the person in question really is disagreeable or in a senior position, and you feel uncomfortable confronting them. Occasionally talking is not an option. Therefore, you need to find ways of working around someone who raises your hackles. One way is not to think about how they act but to focus on your reactions. It is a lot easier and more productive to concentrate on your own behaviour because it is something you can control.
According to Stanford University professor Roger Sutton who has spent years studying workplace dynamics, one of the best things you can do in these situations is practice the fine art of emotional detachment. Just don't care about what they're doing and carry on with your job.
You don't need to be best friends with everyone in your office but following these tips will help you create healthier working relationships.
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