How to deal with a difficult co-worker
Conflict is common in most workplaces. Not all co-workers are going to agree on everything. At a minimum, people have different work styles and ideas on how things should be done. We don’t expect everyone to get along in the outside world, so it’s unrealistic to expect them to always get along in the workplace.
Working with angry or difficult colleagues can be mentally and emotionally draining. We asked Karen Hermann, iHR Australia Senior Workplace Relations Adviser, for some tips on how to deal with an difficult co-worker.
Take Time Out – If your co-worker has a hostile outburst, avoid responding aggressively and physically remove yourself from the situation if you feel stressed or distressed. Move away to a different office area, get some fresh air or take a walk around the block.
Put Safety First – Do not respond to the outburst with any threatening behaviour such as touching the angry person, pointing your finger or getting in his or her personal space. Make sure you remain in a public place or in the presence of another person.
Report the incident – If the person remains out of control, or persists with the outburst, you may need to report the incident to a manager or a member of human resources.
Record the incident – If you consider the outburst is particularly unreasonable or threatening or part of a pattern of behaviour of unreasonable conduct towards you,, keep detailed records/notes of the incident and of any further instances of unreasonable behaviour from your co-worker. This is in case you need to provide evidence to your employer of examples of the unreasonable conduct.
Should you involve others?
Yes, if attempts to de-escalate the behaviour yourself have failed, or if you feel unsafe to address the issue with your co-worker, then involve your manager or a member of human resources or a contact officer. When you report the conduct of your angry co-worker, ensure you do it in a private setting, and in a confidential manner.
Do not involve other work colleagues, or encourage your co-workers to ‘take sides’. This will only escalate the matter and further disrupt the workplace.
How can you protect yourself emotionally if you’re dealing with an angry co-worker?
It is helpful to recognise that often the problem lies with them, not with you. Be mindful that the source of your co-worker’s anger may be their own personal circumstances or issues. This understanding will help you to distance yourself from the anger, and to better deal with the situation.
Be mindful that some of their behaviour may fall into the category of bullying, which is repeated unreasonable behaviour directed towards a person that creates a risk to their health and safety. Raise your concern with your Manager and Human Resources about this behaviour of concern.
You can seek counselling support and assistance from your organisation’s EAP to help you to manage the relationship with your co-worker and any workplace stress you may experience from the behaviour.
Can you turn a conflict with a co-worker into a productive outcome?
Try to determine why the person you’re dealing with feels angry. Attempt to see things from the other person’s perspective. Demonstrate an interest in resolving the situation.
Focus on the root cause of the problem and consider whether there is any way your conduct can change the situation. It may be that once you and your co-worker can calmly discuss the situation, and have time to reflect on it, while distancing yourself from the emotions, that you can together find a productive outcome to the situation.
What steps can you take to resolve a conflict with a co-worker?
You can seek assistance to manage conflict with a co-worker through a facilitated discussion or mediation. iHR Australia can assist organisations with Workplace Mediation and also provides training in Workplace Mediation Skills and Managing Workplace Conflict. Contact us on 1300 884 687 for more information.