Working with Difficult AF Colleagues

There’s a popular quote that says you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. But guess what? You can’t choose your colleagues either.
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The gradsingapore Team
Elliyani Mohamad Ali
Chief Editor, gradsingapore
Working with Difficult AF Colleagues

If cult favourite TV series like The Office, Parks & Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, hold any grain of truth, it’s that dealing with difficult co-workers can be both the norm and yet challenging enough to make you throw in your towel. But you can’t just tender your resignation every time an annoying colleague opens their mouth, so you’ll have to learn how to handle such difficult situations instead.

Remind yourself that being able to work with others is a vital soft skill for any job role. Whether there is a need to collaborate with people from different departments or to brainstorm with your team members for the next big idea, cooperating well with others is frequently viewed as a valued asset in the office. This means treating others with respect, being reliable when it comes to delivering work, and having open communications, among other qualities.

But sometimes, that’s easier said than done, especially if, for whatever reason, you‘re just unable to click with your co-workers. While the responsibility is not on you to change how others behave towards you, what you can do instead is to control yourself and behave professionally to ensure that you don’t jeopardise your career.

Be Calm

Telling yourself to stay calm when you’re angry or annoyed can be akin to telling yourself to stop being nervous before your final exams. It just doesn’t work. But there are some quick steps you can do to keep your emotions in check. When you’re calm, you’ll be able to think logically and act rationally. And when you’re calm, you’re less likely to yell or be rude to the colleague you’re in conflict with.

Ultimately, remember that this is a professional relationship in a professional setting. Losing your temper here will make you look like the bad guy in the situation, regardless of whose fault it actually is.

How do you calm yourself down

Know the Right Way to Confront

While it’s important to remain professional, that doesn’t mean you have to keep putting up with being bullied or treated badly at work. Confronting a co-worker is never easy, but sticking up for your rights is important in order to maintain your morale at the workplace. Whether the confrontation is about your co-worker’s unreliability, lack of communication skills or taking over credit for the shared work, you may need to go one-on-one with said co-worker.

Confrontation should not be your first step, however, and if you’re going to do it, then you’ll need to make sure that in the event that it falls through, you at least don’t further escalate the problem. The main point of the confrontation is to tell the co-worker what’s bothering you, and to come together to a common understanding.

Holding a difficult conversation

Put up Boundaries

Some colleagues may not be intentionally treating you badly – they just don’t know how to deal with boundaries. They may be calling you in to meetings that are not relevant to you, or even roping you into doing some tasks that are not within your jobscopes. While you’re encouraged to try new experiences at work, it becomes pointless if it starts interfering with your actual responsibilities. In this case, you have every right to decline (politely, of course).

Putting up boundaries

Be Empathetic

Having empathy means being able to understand the needs of others and being aware of their thoughts and feelings. When you’re feeling riled up with an annoying co-worker, your empathy can take a backseat. As a result, it becomes easy to turn defensive and only think of your own emotions. You’ll just get stuck on what you hate about your co-workers instead of processing their point of views and where they come from.

That’s not going to solve the problem - on the contrary, it’ll only put you in the bad light by making you seem unreasonable. Take an emotional step back, and try to put yourself in your colleague’s shoes and understand the reason behind their behaviours.

Signs of an empathetic person

Go to your boss

If all else fails and you’re unable resolve the issue with your co-worker, then consider approaching your boss about it. No one likes to snitch to their bosses, but this is typically the last resort if all your initial efforts failed. And chances are, as long as you give a valid explanation about your concerns, they’ll usually be willing to hear you out.

Remember though, your boss is there to mediate and help repair the working relationship, not a best friend to complain and vent to the second a colleague annoys you. If you’re forced to go through this route, schedule a one-on-one meeting with your boss.

Talk to your boss about your difficult co-worker

Although you’d ideally would like to get along well with everyone you work with, the reality is that you just can’t expect them to become your best friends. And ultimately, working with people you dislike is part and parcel of working life. But as long as you do your work well and treat your co-workers with respect, you’re already one step closer to having a drama-free work life. Honestly, who doesn’t want that?