Three Essential Lessons from a Challenging Co-Worker


If you’re dealing with a difficult co-worker, your focus is likely on day-to-day survival. However, taking a step back from the situation can teach you valuable lessons and even help you build your skills as an employee.

First things first–you shouldn’t have to deal with harassment of any kind in the workplace. If that co-worker’s behavior crosses the line, notify your human resources department.

The bad news: You won’t become best friends with all your co-workers. The good news: You can choose to learn and grow from negative workplace experiences, rather than simply getting through them.

Here are three strategies to gain insight while dealing with challenging co-workers:

Consider the Motivation

It may seem like your office mate is causing drama for no apparent reason. However, people usually have underlying motivations, even if they don’t fully understand them.

Ask yourself what triggered this behavior. Is there stress outside of the workplace causing your co-worker to act out? Perhaps it’s the interplay between your positions in the company causing the tension. Has this co-worker always had a toxic relationship with the person who held your title?

Lesson learned: Considering what motivates your unreasonable co-worker’s bad behavior allows you to see the big picture and approach the situation with compassion.

Shine a Light on the Behavior

The time may come when trying to understand a toxic co-worker isn’t enough. If a fellow employee has a habit of calling you out in front of a crowd, it might be time to speak up and set limits. This technique turns the attention to your co-worker’s undesirable behavior by establishing a boundary and asking a question.

For example, you’re at an employee function, and your co-worker says loudly, “Rebecca finally showed up on time. It’s a miracle.”

Your response is professional yet firm: “What do you mean by that comment?”

Chances are the offending co-worker may backpedal, insisting no harm was meant. If they continue with the biting comments, call more attention to it and set a boundary by saying, “I don’t appreciate that comment. If you’re going to talk to me like that, I’ll move to another table.”

Lesson learned: You can set boundaries in relationships, including those with co-workers, and you don’t have to accept being mistreated.

Control What You Can

You can’t change your difficult co-worker, but you can change how you react to them.

Be aware of your emotions and know how to regain control, when you feel yourself reaching the boiling point. Develop a simple action plan to help you keep your cool and your job.

Disconnecting for a few minutes by stepping outside, or even into the restroom, might be all it takes to diffuse a tense situation.

Lesson learned: You’re in control of your reactions. If you accept this responsibility, no one will be able to push your buttons.

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