Dealing with a difficult colleague

Teamwork also means putting up with colleagues’ little ways. But when vexation turns to dislike and anger, then communication should be your weapon of choice.

Your colleague irritates you. He knows everything better, but avoids doing any real work. He is sometimes irascible, sometimes childish. He’s always plotting, or he makes noises that prevent you from concentrating. There are many such quirks that can strain a working environment. Ideally one can tolerate them or take them with good humor. But what can you do if Mr. Comical always manages to get on your nerves? When accumulated irritation turns into raging fury?

Don’t let it get that far
Anger is a poor motivator in a professional environment. So your first step should be to ask yourself what part you play in the situation. What sensitive spots are triggered by your colleague’s behavior? How does he contrive to upset you so much? Your second step might be to find out more about the troublemaker. Neutral conversations may be more help than addressing the matter directly, because the more we know about a person, the easier it is to overlook their failings. You may find you have common interests and opinions, or you may gain insight into some aspect of his personal circumstances that makes the disturbing behavior understandable—or at least less relevant. Many apparent ogres become quite normal when you take a closer look.

A calm clarifying conversation
If the quirky behavior remains intolerable then rational action is called for. Losing your temper so that you yourself contribute to the poisoned atmosphere is just as unhelpful as invective would be. What is advisable is a clarifying discussion. Be well prepared, keep calm, and if possible involve a neutral third party. It will be useful to make a note beforehand of what exactly is so annoying and what could be done to resolve the situation. This last point is important in order to establish whether you can give the colleague a chance to improve matters. If this is not the case then you have no basis for a conversation and no prospect of any further cooperation. However, your goal must be to defuse the situation for the sake of successful teamwork. And this can only be achieved if you are also willing to compromise.

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