Stuck Working With Difficult People?

by Andrea M. Darcy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Has going to work become something you dread, because you are working with difficult people? What can you do if your colleagues or your manager are driving you around the bend?

Why workplace stress matters

Workplace stress can all to easily roll into anxiety, depression, and burnout.

The UK government’s Health and Safety branch reported over 15 million days of work lost in 2018 because of work-related stress.

How to handle difficult people at work

Of course we don’t get to choose who we work with, or what their personalities will be. And most of need to work to survive.

So a large part of the stress of working with difficult people is that we feel helpless and trapped.

But is this true?

In some cases, yes. A manager threatens to fire you if you don't work more than a legal work week. A colleague is bullying or harrassing you. All you can do here is report that your rights are not being respected, speak to human resources, or to call a workplace charity for guidance.

But often, working with difficult people can be more within our control to change than we realise.

1. Show up balanced.

Workplace relationships are like any relationships - they are affected by how we show up. Just like we tend to get into family spats if we show up at a reunion in a bad mood? If you come to work hungover, tired, or distracted you are far more likely to have flareups with colleagues.

The healthier your life outside of work, the healthier your life at work, and the less colleagues will trigger you. Practise self-care. Get good sleep during the work week, eat healthy, work on your relationships. Have hobbies that inspire and energise you, and seek support for any overwhelming issues.

2. Separate the job from your colleagues.

Is it really your colleagues that are the problem? Or are you avoiding facing that you don’t like the job itself? And you need to rethink your future?

If you were working with your best friends, would you want this job, or is the truth that you are fighting with colleagues as the perfect drama to hide the fact that it’s time to make a new CV?

3. Get rid of the carpet.

One of the biggest reasons for not getting along with colleagues is that we feel put upon. We are doing other people’s jobs for them, we even buy all the office snacks out of our own budget and organise all the afterwork gatherings.

But these are choices. They are not the job description. You are choosing to be a carpet everyone can walk all over. And you can either keep feeling annoyed and spend all your spare time complaining, or you can accept you have a boundaries issue.

Of course if you have always been the 'yes' person, it can be scary to say no. It will take time and effort to learn, and yes, people might be surprised at first by your refusal to do what they want. But they might also then show you the respect you've longer for.

4. Do a communication upgrade.

Your colleague hates you because she never talks to you. Nobody appreciates what you do. And you deserved that last promotion, but your manager underestimates you.

But these are actually all assumptions, not facts. Have you talked to your colleague about what is going on in her life which might be nothing to do with you? Did you ask for constructive feedback from others on your work? And have you actually told your manager you want a promotion?

We make assumptions because we are not actually communicating properly. It becomes about taking the time to honestly troubleshoot our ways of listening and sharing. If you find communicating hard, remember it’s a skill you can study and learn that improves with practise.

5. Get to the source.

Here’s the thing about colleagues. They are easy to blame things on. We put our problems ‘over there’, on someone we’ll never know intimately, who we can go away from daily when we return home. They become a perfect scapegoat.

Get honest and ask some good questions.

  • Do I actually feel bad all the time, and not just at work?
  • Is this the first time I haven’t got on with colleagues, or is this an ongoing problem in life?
  • In fact do I tend to have problems with relationships in general? And expect too much?
  • Is it possible there is something else I don’t want to admit isn’t going well?
  • Is it my marriage, a relationship, my own low self-esteem?
  • Do I have unresolved past trauma that is affecting me?

Time to get help troubleshooting your workplace stress? Or learning how to set boundaries at last? Book your first session now with a counsellor of your choice and start finally moving forward.

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