Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about frustrating co-workers. No, it’s not because of my own experience—my co-workers are dependable and supportive—but because the topic keeps coming up. The free Focus On section at CommunicationBriefings.com is all about “difficult personalities” this month, we just launched our newest multimedia product called The Co-Worker From Hell and last night I listened to a friend vent about a particularly exasperating co-worker of her own. As far as I can tell, I’m in the lucky minority as someone without maddening colleagues.
First, I want to make one thing clear: I do think that there are some people who really are mean or lazy or otherwise “hellish.” However, I don’t think the vast majority of “co-workers from hell” are. Most of the time, bad behavior is triggered by another person or event, not by the person’s naturally evil ways. Therefore, when you’re completely frustrated by one of your co-workers, it’s best to step back, take a deep breath and ask yourself “What’s causing this person’s behavior?”
Sometimes they are being difficult for a reason that has nothing to do with you and that you couldn’t possibly know about. For example, maybe your co-worker Todd is being short with you because he’s been up all night taking care of a terminally ill parent. There’s not much you can do about that, besides offer Todd your sympathy if he opens up to you.
Other times, however, the behavior is caused by someone at work, and if you’re honest with yourself, you might realize that sometimes that person is you. For example, maybe Margaret is being rude because that not-so-nice comment you made about her last week got back to her. Maybe Bill missed the deadline because you weren’t clear about it. And maybe Clark whines to you about all of his problems because you’ve allowed him to for months. In those cases, the only way to fix the problem is to own up to your part in it.
After a little soul searching, if you suspect that you might be triggering a co-worker’s bad behavior, be the bigger person and approach him or her about it. In a calm, non-confrontational tone, say “(Name), when you (the behavior), it makes me feel (your feeling/interpretation). What have I done to make you act that way, and most important, what can I do to fix it?” Listen to the person’s response with an open mind. Don’t be defensive. After you’ve discussed the issue, commit to making any changes necessary for improving your work relationship, shake hands and put the issue behind you.
Have you ever realized you were causing someone’s bad behavior? What did you do?
[Image Source: Stewart Richards]