I am a Project Coordinator at a busy IT consulting firm, working in a team of 15 professionals. What can I do about one of the co-workers on the team who is rude to me, interrupts me in the meetings, puts me down and always offers opinions or comments that are none of her business? I believe she is deliberately trying to make me quit the team. Everyone else of the team is fun, engaging and friendly.
This specific co-worker’s disrespectful behaviour is causing me stress, and I am anxious every time we have a meeting together. I am wracking my brain trying to figure out how this type of conflict started and what I did, or didn’t do to contribute to this situation. Quite frankly, it’s her fault and I really hate her.
I love my job. I would like to remain here, but cannot endure her horrible attitude and behaviour any more.
Signed: Dealing with difficult co-worker (DDW)
Isn’t it funny how the workplace can bring lots of new friends and learning on one hand, while other colleagues can be rude, offensive and negative, and can even make you want to quit! Leaders in the field of psychology would advise you to hold on to your anxiety, and learn listen to other people’s words and opinions with a filter; you learn to take what will benefit you and leave the rest, suggests Denise Bissonnette in her book 30 Ways to Shine as a New Employee: A Guide to Success in the Workplace.
Do not let hurtful co-workers or their comments rock your boat, she continues. This is not easy however as we are only human beings, we do not always treat each other kindly. Bissonnette believes that words that are spoken with the intent to insult or hurt you are opportunities to learn about yourself; she recommends some tips to not let the difficult co-worker have power over you, your work and all the other positive aspects that you have:
- Recognize that if you feel ignored, ridiculed or insulted by someone at work, you should realize that this is not a failure on your part, but as ignorance and lack of self-esteem on their part. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”.
- Stay away from pessimists and complainers. Surround yourself with friends who are positive and have good attitudes. Happiness is contagious. It is difficult to be negative in the presence of someone who is having a good time. So in the meetings, sit with your friends and have a great time with them (while making sure you are focused on the work of course!).
- When you feel harassed by anyone in the workplace, or someone makes a rude comment, calmly say: ‘Excuse me, what did you just say?’ , giving the person a chance to rethink. And, if this doesn’t work, then play the role of “broken record”: communicate how you feel three times. ‘Excuse me, but I do not appreciate that comment. Do not use words like that in front of me. Please do not treat me like that again’.
- Find a way to make changes in YOURSELF instead of someone else. Sometimes the results are the same.
- Try to focus on what the person might be needing in the situation and might not be able to communicate in a clear, kind way. Find the intent behind the rudeness. Perhaps the person on your team is being ignored by others, or cannot manage the workload or deadlines. Find out what’s behind the comments; perhaps you can offer to help out in a kind way.
- Kill them with kindness. Imagine responding with kindness to people criticizing you or your work in front of other people or when someone makes a rude remark or joke at your expense or someone blames you for something that you couldn’t help? Give the person the benefit of the doubt that you were not the intended target at first. Sometimes kindness is exactly what the person needs most. By responding to conflict with kindness, you will be practising a strength and eliciting a power that is almost impossible to overcome! As the Dalai Lama professes, “My religion is very simple – my religion is kindness”.
In the meantime, try not to quit. Here is some homework to consider to practice the strategies above as presented by Bissonnette. Think about the last time you openly criticized someone face to face or behind his or her back. Consider what it was you really needed and wanted from that interaction. This could be an interesting exercise in empathy and may help you understand your difficult co-worker and how to deal with her in a professional and kind way.