Difficult Colleagues? These 3 Pointers Will Make You a Lion Tamer

Women at table


Heidi Crux
Heidi Crux10
July 19, 2024 at 9:10AM UTC
Do you have to collaborate with a co-worker you loathe? Or better yet, do you have to attend a meeting where this piece of work will be in attendance? Fret not! Dealing with unpleasant people in the workplace is not as daunting or uncomfortable as you may think. Sure, nobody relishes having to put themselves through the interpersonal gymnastics necessary to communicate with these crustaceans, but just a few pointers can actually make these encounters bearable.

1. KNOW that their crusty exterior has absolutely nothing to do with you. 

This is where most people trip up with these grumpy ghouls: They take it personally. If you are one of those people, you need to thicken up that skin of yours lest you be the punching bag for all bureaucratic bullies. There are many reasons why this person may be communicating this way, and you have no way of knowing the motivation behind the mean mouth. Some of the most common reasons people act this way include insecurity, stress, exhaustion, hunger, psychological turmoil, personal problems and worry. Notice that they all have nothing to do with you personally? Sure, you don’t deserve to be spoken harshly to, or spoken down to. And yes, they should know how to conduct themselves appropriately at all times. But they either don’t or they can’t, and nothing you can do or say is going to change that. 
Don’t take anything as an affront. Conduct yourself as you would with any other colleague and note in your heart that the toxic team member is suffering from something, even if you deduce that torment to be delusions of grandeur. Do NOT react. Respond in your usual professional way. You will be applauded by all.

2. Remember people at their worst need our understanding the most.

It’s true. Think about a time when you were losing it, or uncharacteristically nasty or impatient with someone. Was the recipient of your wrath the real reason behind your ill-will, or were you juggling other stresses as well? And, if that was the case, didn’t you feel the need to apologize later for your lapse in reasonable relations?  If you understand that these irrational actions are probably unintentional and you're forgiving, you reduce the need for remedy and probably feel so much better. 
If you care to go a step further because you’ve noticed this is a pattern with this person, quietly pull them aside as ask them point blank: “Have I done something to offend you?” You may get a very surprised individual offering a plethora of apologies, or you will have opened the discussion towards resolution of something you might not have been aware of. Bottom line, take action. Whether it be taking action with compassion or communication, do something. Don’t go lamenting around the workplace about the Nasty Nelly in accounting. That kind of talk will get you nowhere.

3. Get the unpleasant person on your side – go out of your way to seek their advice or inclusion. 

Yes, you read correctly. I am telling you to make friends with this pariah. Why? It has been my experience that these people are often feeling left out of the decision-making process, or that their input has not been sought out in a process that should include them. There is a lot of insecurity and a ton of competition in every workplace. Some people just handle it better than others. It has been my experience that every employee just wants to be heard and acknowledged. When that doesn’t happen, the gloves come off. 
As a matter of fact, in my 30+ years in management, there hasn’t been a dueling duo that did not come to an amicable agreement after coming into my office to discuss alternative methods to reach their common goal. This was in no way admonishment. I would simply listen to both positions and acknowledge the importance of each.  Then, as if by magic, the two employees would begin to propose solutions to each other as if I weren’t even in the room. Why? Because they had finally been heard, and in doing so, were ready to engage in problem solving.
Who knew that communicating better with an unruly brute would require nothing more than a touch of understanding, patience, and willingness on your part. I promise, you have nothing to lose, and peace of mind to gain.
Heidi Crux is the author of Public Speaking Simplified and Demystified. Communication Basics to Create Lasting Impressions. Heidi is a graduate of Dale Carnegie Training with over 25 years of experience both in and out of the boardroom teaching communication basics and management principles at the university level. As a trainer and coach Heidi conducts seminars and workshops upon request as well as public speaking engagements.

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