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Ten ways to deal with a difficult colleague

A sad fact of modern, open, collaborative workplaces is that there is nearly always someone in the midst who doesn't want to be there - and they're not afraid to show it.

While you and the rest of your team are actively making the world a better place, or at the very least making a ton of money for your bosses, there may be someone determined to undermine the group, offering nothing but negativity and passive aggression in lieu of useful input. Some may even be bullies, beating down others in an attempt to gain more prestige and respect.

Dealing with the problem person is of paramount importance; if they’re allowed to operate unopposed for too long they can undermine both your team’s productivity and your own self esteem. But fear not, there are a number of ways that you can defuse or avoid the problems put in your path by difficult colleagues - we’ve chucked ten of the most effective into an easy to digest list below:

1.) Share the load

A weight shared is a weight lessened; if you seek advice from a colleague they may well be able to help you deal with the difficult colleague in question. They may have been through something similar in the past, or they may just be more experienced in general. If you’re very lucky, they may have dealt with the problem colleague in the past, and have their own set of tricks for dealing with them. If you don’t ask you’ll never know!

2) Deal with them head on

Make an effort to reach out to a difficult colleague; if they’re finding it hard to communicate, it may be necessary to help them over that hurdle for the good of you, your team, and your company as whole. This doesn’t need to be achieved through a montage with an 80’s rock soundtrack, but it probably can’t hurt.

3) Rally the troops

Sometimes it’s important to remember that you can’t deal with every problem yourself, so seek support from your other team members when dealing with a difficult colleague directly. It might be useful for the problem person to see that you’re not the only person who doesn’t appreciate their conduct, or it may just be useful to have the moral support. Leave the flaming torches and pitchforks at your desk though, this should be a show of solidarity, not force.

4) Confront bullies

If one colleague, or a group of colleagues, keep shooting you down, or are going too far in competing for the attention of your boss or line manager, you need to deal with it as soon as possible. Of course, we don’t mean you should go full Rambo; your career is going to be even further on the rocks if you’re in a prison cell for the next conference call.

No, all you need to do is sit down with the problem party or parties, and explain, in an unemotional way, exactly what they’re doing. Force them to deal with the negative effect they’re actions are having on your work and the work of the team as a whole, and hopefully they’ll change their ways.

5) Bond with them during a team building exercise...

A team building exercise can be a great way to bond with colleagues, and this is no different with the difficult ones. Whether this means coaxing an uncommunicative co-worker out of their shell while solving a murder mystery, forcing an arrogant team-mate to cooperate in a scavenger hunt, or showing a domineering bully that the rest of your team can make useful contributions by performing well in an orchestral performance... the possibilities are endless!

6) ...Alternatively, crush them during a team building exercise

Sure, it says teambuilding in the name, but if you need to deal with a problem colleague who has rebuffed any attempt at reconciliation or positive interaction, maybe it’s time to take them down a notch. Demonstrate your superiority by out-thinking them during a trivia night, lead your team to victory over theirs in a cooking competition, or out-muscle them in a series of competitive tribal competitions! Show them who’s boss, even if they are your boss.

7) Know your enemy

While perhaps not the most moral piece of advice that you’ll read all day, there’s a good chance that the obnoxious behaviour of a problem colleague may be at least part of how they’ve got to the position they’re at today. In the real world, turning to the dark side isn’t a slippery slope to ultimate damnation; sometimes everyone needs to be a little bit more sociopathic.

So pay attention to how the difficult colleague acts, how they get their way, how they grease the wheels of power, and try to apply some of the more practical bits of reprehensible behaviour to your working day. Nice guys finish last and all that.

8) Get on with it

If other efforts have failed, and moving away from the issues isn’t possible, you may just have to grin and bear it. It may be possible to minimise exposure to the disruptive co-worker without seriously changing your working routine and you can remove yourself from any optional workplace or extracurricular activities which will involve prolonged contact with them. It’s not like you wanted to spend any time with them anyway, right?

9) Don’t break under the pressure

Don’t allow the behaviour of disruptive or abusive colleagues effect your conduct or work ethic; if you do, you’ll be letting them win. You know that you’re the best person for your job, and you know that their negativity or abuse is just their way of dragging you down. Rise above it!

10) Make sure that you’re not the problem!

If you're feeling a tad uncomfortable as you're reading this, it’s always possible that you might be the epicentre of the negativity in your workplace. If you feel that you’re being unfairly treated, or picked on by individual colleagues or your entire team, it’s worth double checking your actions before you question those of others.

Maybe office sentiment is that you’re doing too little, or flying too high. Perhaps, while you’re feeling isolated, everyone else feels like you’re not making enough of an effort to join in. Regardless, you don’t need to change who you are to deal with this issue, you just need to make more of an effort around your colleagues to collaborate and integrate.

This article was written by team building and corporate events company Bluehatgroup.co.uk.

Image credit: Thinkstock

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