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You’re bound to encounter someone who rubs you the wrong way, because we all have different ways of thinking and working. “This is to be expected, especially if your co-workers come from diverse backgrounds and age groups, and share different values,” explains workplace learning specialist Dr. Chito Tongco, vice-chairman of the School of Communication at the University of Asia and the Pacific.
Before you engage in a war of words with that annoying colleague, take a deep breath and heed the experts’ advice:
MAINTAIN YOUR DISTANCE.
Maintain a psychological distance from the offending party. “This refers to the emotional barricade we build to make ourselves feel like our relationship with that other person is not a close one,” says Jonathan A. Hess, Ph.D, an Asst. Professor of Communication at the University of Missouri-Columbia in the article “Dealing with Co-workers We Don’t Like.”
How to do that? Focus on the task, rather than the people involved; avoid questions that are unrelated to the job so that interaction is over more quickly; call the person or send an email instead of talking to her face-to-face should the need arise; and, when it’s necessary to interact with the person, have other people around.
It’s easy for us to see other people’s flaws without looking at ourselves first. “When you have a problem with how other people in the office are treating you, figure out how you can change,” says career columnist Penelope Trunk in her book Brazen Careerist. “Your success depends on your ability to take control of a problem and solve it. So think about yourself first.”
You can’t change their behavior, but you can surely change your perspective, says Dr. Tongco. “You can choose to be irritated by this person the whole day, or you can make a firm decision not to allow this person to get in the way of your performance at work.”
ENVISION A “NEW AND IMPROVED” CO-WORKER.
Changing your perspective also means seeing your co-worker in a whole new light. Focus on her positive attributes, rather than on the ways she continues to bother you. “The secret to healthy working relationships lies in your ability to celebrate the strengths of your colleagues,” says Dr. Tongco. “It’s this shift in perspective that will change and improve your office life.”
DEVISE A PLAN.
What if you’re assigned to work on the same project, making avoidance impossible? “Set a clear direction. Make sure to level expectations at the start of your project in terms of: specific objectives, deadlines, expected output, and evaluation and control measures that are to be used,” says Tongco.
ENGAGE IN DIALOGUE.
If you feel you’re emotionally ready to talk to the person about what’s bothering you, you can bring up the problem directly, being careful with your choice of words. Dr. Tongco cautions: “Hate the sin and not the sinner…Never launch a personal attack against your co-workers. They will surely retaliate.”
He also advises against giving general comments; opt instead for specific instances. “Relay them to the person as soon as possible. Delaying will make the issues that you raise stale and harder to recall.”
“Depending upon the range and depth of their clueless behavior, a final option is to bring a senior level person into the loop,” says career columnist Dr. Lloyd.
If you’ve done everything in your power to try and resolve the situation but to no avail, then it’s time to talk to your supervisor or to HR. “You need to consult with them and seek their advice,” says Dr. Tongco. “Consultation is not a sign of weakness; on the contrary, it demonstrates proactive behavior and the desire to better the situation.”
(First published in Marie Claire, December 2007; illustration by Ria Henares)