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Coping with a difficult co-worker

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Posted: July 10, 2014 1:13 p.m.
Updated: July 10, 2014 11:35 a.m.
Coping with a difficult co-worker


      Question: There is a manager I have to deal with in my office who is driving me crazy. She creates problems out of thin air and blames them on me. She sometimes attacks me with ridiculous accusations. I'm apparently the only one with a target on my back, so no one can validate what I'm experiencing. I really don't know what to do. I can't leave this job and I can't have a rational conversation with her because she denies it all. Any advice?
        Answer: This advice would apply to anyone who has to work (or live) with someone they don't like and struggle to get along with. We all experience people problems, therefore learning to cope with difficult people is an important life skill.
The famous author J.G. Holland said, "The secret of many a man's success in the world resides in his insight into the moods of men and his tact in dealing with them."
        Here are nine tips for coping with the difficult people in your life:
        1) Understand most bad behavior is based in the difficult person's fear about themselves. Even when they are attacking you or casting you as the bad guy, they wouldn't be doing this if they weren't so scared of looking bad or being taken from. Everyone on this planet is scared of failure (looking bad) and loss (being taken from) to some degree, and these two fears are behind most bad behavior. Step back from every situation and ask yourself, "What is this person scared of?" This manager obviously sees you as a threat in some way. Why? Understanding her fear issues will help you with the next tip ....
        2) Don't take it personally. Just because she is blaming you and casting you as the bad guy doesn't mean you have to take it, pick it up and own it. You don't even have to be upset by it. You could let it bounce off you and deny her actions any power to hurt, diminish or bother you. You don't have to attend every argument you are invited to.
        There is an old legend that a man started insulting and verbally abusing Buddha. Buddha let the man go on for a while, then asked, "May I ask you a question?" The man responded, ‘What?" "If someone offers you a gift and you decline to accept it, who does it belong to?" The man said, "Then it belongs to the person who offered it. He must keep it." "That is correct. " And with that Buddha walked away.
        3) Look for the lesson. I recently taught the principle of not taking things personally to a corporate group. One of the "difficult to work with" employees in the group immediately latched onto the idea of not taking things personally to excuse herself from being responsible for her bad behavior. She basically decided to dismiss anyone who had a problem with her. This wasn't what I meant. When people attack you, complain about you, or are upset over your behavior, you had better step back and check this feedback for accuracy.
        In a place of trust, seeing life as a classroom, not a test, where your value isn't in question, you should step back and look at any and all feedback to see if there is truth behind it. Make sure you are mindful of how your behavior affects others. This experience is in your life to teach you something. What is it showing you about yourself? The easiest thing to change in any situation is you. Is there any way you could behave differently to improve this situation?
        4) Try to see the situation from the other person's perspective. What is going on in their world? Are they dealing with a family issue, a divorce or health problems? Are they struggling with their job or clashing with the boss and taking it out on you? If you can put yourself in their shoes, you may gain some compassion and clarity about what's really going on. Then you might see a way to help them and solve the issue for you both.
        5) Don't react impulsively. An emotional reaction when you are annoyed never produces the best results. Give it a little time and space to make sure you see the situation accurately and are not coming from fear before you say or do anything. But don't let the problem fester too long, either. It's better to tackle bad behavior sooner than to dig up something that happened weeks ago.
        6) Stop talking about it. If you are talking about this difficult person with everyone who will listen, you are adding negative energy to the problem. Check why you feel the need to do this. Are you doing this to get validation or feel important? Consider focusing on finding solutions instead of gossiping.
        7) Treat this person with respect and kindness even if they don't deserve it. This is the best approach because they will never expect it! Kindness may actually throw them off their game completely. Nothing changes a negative situation faster than refusing to participate in it. It takes two to fight. Look for good in this person and compliment them often. Dig deep and find something in this person to appreciate and be grateful for. The more you thank them for good behavior, the more they will behave that way toward you. Kindness will make it very hard for them to treat you badly in the future.
        8) Have a mutually validating conversation. If you decide you must have a conversation with this person about their behavior, follow these steps for best results:
        1. Figure out the outcome you want. How can you create that outcome? Focus more on where you are going and what you want moving forward than where you are now with this person. Be solution-focused more than problem-focused.
        2. Choose the right time. Make sure you can have a private and uninterrupted conversation. Ask them if this is a good time and if they might be up to having a heart to heart conversation.
        3. Be calm. They can read your emotions and your energy. If you are angry, scared or upset, they will feel this in your energy and get defensive before the conversation even starts. Set your hurt feelings aside, trust the universe that your value is absolute and can't be diminished by this person no matter what. You are bulletproof, so you have nothing to fear.
        4. Ask questions about how they feel and what they think about the situation. Listen to how they feel. Do not get defensive or upset about what they say. Validate their right to see and think the way they do. Be open to hearing some ways you could improve. Make sure they feel heard and understood before going to the last step.
        5. Ask permission to share your solutions. Ask if they would be open to hearing your suggestions on ways to improve your working relationship. Focus on the positive as much as possible, use "I" statements and speak to your perspective and your feelings (avoid "you" as much as you can) and focus on the future behavior you would like to see. Ask if she would be willing to bring complaints to you directly moving forward.
        9) Document everything. Tristen Loo, an expert in conflict resolution, says when you are having problems with a co-worker or employer, you should document everything. "This will become your main ammunition should a complaint ever be filed down the road." He recommends only going to a superior as a last resort, but if you need documentation, you'll have it.
        You have more power to change this situation than you think, but a scared, angry, victim mentality will rob you of that power. Your power comes by choosing to act from a place of strength, fearlessness, wisdom and love.
        You can do this!
        Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is also the author of the new book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and is a coach, speaker and corporate trainer.

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