6 ways to help you deal with difficult co-workers
Got difficult people you have to deal with at work? Before you undertake drastic measures or go telling them to change, try one or all of these 6 strategies. At a minimum, you’ll get more clarity and wisdom on how to approach the situation (if that is what’s needed), and at best, you may resolve the problem without any dramatic actions needing to take place.
While it can seem that some co-workers are simply annoying and difficult to work with, it’s worth checking to see if there’s anything going on in ourselves that’s compounding the problem (as there often is), and if there is, working through it. Doing this can cause a ripple effect beyond navigating how to work with this one person. It may mean you won’t encounter the same problem when another person is difficult in the same way. That’s one of the benefits of getting to the root cause.
Seeing what’s truly going on below the surface in ourselves can be difficult to recognise at first, so let’s take a smaller example to illustrate the point:
Have you ever had an experience where you just wanted to relax and unwind, but your friends or family were in a partying mood, and they were annoyingly loud or exuberant just when you wanted to get comfortable? And have you also had times when you wanted to celebrate and have a good time and the same loud and exuberant attitude which annoyed you before, now made you have an even better experience?
It’s not so much that one of those moods is better or worse, it’s more that the difference between how you perceived the loud celebration was based on what was going on internally for you.
Is it triggering the past?
However, this same principle can have more complexity to it. For example, we’ve all had people in our lives who did bad things to us or were the cause of some kind of disagreeable experience. It could have been a school bully or a teacher who was unjust, a parent with a short temper, an ex causing a bad breakup or a friend betraying us, to name just a few.
When these kinds of situations happen, we have a part of our brain that links the negative experience with the external cause of that experience. For example it links “teacher with red hair” with “humiliation in front of everyone” or “intimate partner who always wears black” with “heartbreak and rejection”.
This means that when we encounter another person who looks like/sounds like/acts like/has the same name as/uses the same expressions as/is of the same gender as the first person who caused us to have a negative experience, that past experience may get triggered. Our brain is trying to prepare us by saying “last time this bad thing happened, so be on your guard, that way it won’t happen again”. But because this generally happens subconsciously, we’re not aware of why that trigger is there, we just experience negative emotions.
So while the person at work may legitimately be annoying or disagreeable (and everyone else may even have the same point of view), see if anything about them reminds you of anyone else in your life. While you can try to do this completely intellectually, often a much more effective way is to use a method known as “Tapping”. It not only allows you to get to the core problem more quickly and truthfully, you can then also use it to actually resolve that problem rather than leaving it at an intellectual realisation.
Using your finger tips, lightly tap about 7 times on each point shown below while focusing on the difficult/annoying person you have to deal with. See what it feels like in your body when you think of them or of what they did. Then try asking yourself some of the questions below and answer them quickly, from your gut/your instinct/ the first thing that comes to mind. This is a good way to bypass your analytical mind which questions and doubts and takes time. Because what comes to mind may seem irrelevant to begin with:
Who does this person remind me of?
What does that action remind me of? (if the person did something that got to you)
When was an earlier time I felt this way?
Notice what comes up and using Tapping to resolve the incidences that come to mind. For example, you may get a random memory of a teacher being unfair to you. This is almost always because that memory still holds some emotional intensity or stress. That distress is being triggered by your current situation and is often part of the root cause of the difficulty you’re experiencing now.
Therefore, by removing that distress from the past, you’re resolving the distress in your present situation. At a basic level, you’re simply lightly tapping on each point about 7 times using your finger tips. This releases the emotional charge. You can also verbalise what happened and how it makes you feel while you tap. This will ultimately allow you to move on rather than carrying this memory around as baggage to get triggered again and again.
The root cause may end up being one small thing, or a complex series of situations that you need to work through one at a time to resolve.
I highly recommend you learn more about Tapping, the science that supports it, and how to use it as this is just the very basics. You can learn more by clicking the links below:
Are they a mirror for something in you?
Similar to the person triggering something from your past, they may trigger a personality trait you have in yourself but dislike. For example, they may be overly confident and boisterous, always wanting to be right. Consider whether you may have a tendency to be like this yourself (whether or not you act on it), and use Tapping to work through that.
We may have repressed a certain quality because we were told at some stage that we shouldn’t be that way. Perhaps you wanted to show off but were told you needed to be humble. Or perhaps you wanted to express anger but were told you needed to calm down. This caused a conflict of wanting to be a certain way but being told you couldn’t or shouldn’t. Now, this difficult person at work may be triggering this conflict inside you, because they’re acting in a way that you would like to act but have been forbidden from doing so.
They may still be the most difficult person to work with and it may be obvious that it’s best not to act on certain traits. But that doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes want to be selfish, uncaring, mean, brash etc. We can work on ourselves so that we’re only being annoyed by their trait in and of itself and not compounding it because of some internal conflict that takes our energy and mental clarity.
Use the same method as above, by tapping through the points and see if any of these questions can help you pinpoint the true inner cause:
Do I have the characteristic they’re displaying?
Do I ever want to act the way they’re acting but don’t allow myself to?
What would happen if I acted the way they did?
How would I feel if I acted the way they did?
Has anyone ever told me not to be the way they are?
If anything comes up, you can use Tapping to help you through it.
Are you generalising?
Genuinely ask yourself if everything about them is annoying, or if there is one characteristic or behaviour that is getting to you. For example, we may say someone is “the most annoying and difficult person on the planet”, but in reality, they’ve just got an annoying voice or are overly arrogant, or are always critical of everything. It’s easy for us to then generalise that one characteristic to everything about them. This makes the problem far worse than it is.
If we can step back and recognise “oh, actually, the only thing that’s really irritating about John is_____________”, it makes the whole situation much more manageable.
Plus, if it is just one or two things, that makes it much easier to work on using Tapping. You can get really specific about the problem, and thus get much better results (which will also often come about much faster).
What’s the worst that could happen?
When something isn’t the way we want it to be, we tend to either try and ignore it, or lean in and fix it. The underlying hope of both of these actions is something like: “If I can just make the world exactly the way I want it to be, (even if I have to lie to myself about what’s going on or put effort into something that doesn’t really matter), then I'll feel good.”
But we can bring consciousness to this and play out the worst case scenario without trying to change it or do anything about it. When you’re on your way to or from work, imagine this difficult person being the most trying they could possibly be. And see if you can sit with it. See if you can develop some perspective. Tapping on the points shown above can be a good way to reduce the level of intensity during this process without having to try to think positively as you imagine this. You may realise that the worst case scenario isn’t half as bad as you thought, once you play it out.
Can you develop compassion?
Whoever it is that’s difficult, it’s good to remember that they’re a human being. And no human being has gone through life unscathed. We’ve all had our challenges and had experiences we wish would have gone differently. If we’re able to view this person and their behaviour through the lens of compassion, we can actually strengthen our own inner resilience. We can use an unwanted experience to bring out good and greatness in ourselves.
This is often difficult but not impossible. Here are a few ways to make it easier:
Think about why you can’t feel compassion for them and use Tapping to release the intensity around those reasons.
Think about what they might have gone through to develop the characteristic you don’t like.
Can you think of someone who might feel compassionate or forgiving towards them? (this can even be a god-like figure) and imagine them being compassionate while you “watch”.
What would have to happen to you for you to have the traits you find difficult to deal with in that person?
Can you begin by feeling compassion towards someone for whom it’s easy to feel compassion for and then gradually move on to more and more difficult people to feel compassion towards until you focus on this person?
See if you can feel compassionate towards them for 5 seconds. Starting small makes it easier, more manageable, and even small doses of “positive” emotions can have a tremendous effect.
Have an imaginary conversation with them
While tapping the points shown above, take some deep breaths and centre yourself. Then imagine they’re in the same room as you. Speak to them, vent to them, what do you wish you could just shout at them? What do you want them to understand but perhaps can’t say to their face?
Then, listen to/imagine how they might respond as you keep tapping through the points. This can go back and forth for as long or as short a period of time as you want. It can be incredibly cathartic, helpful and sometimes it’s all we need to be able to get something off our chest, so then we can move on.
Some final notes
First: all of these methods can cause the intensity to rise before it falls (especially this last one).
Second: You may need to take action and actually do something to change the situation. However, working with even just a small amount of your own baggage first, means you can approach the situation with a much more levelled head. This way you will have a much better chance of things turning out the way you want, as you will act much more intelligently. It will help you avoid consequences from knee-jerk reactions that can take far more time and effort to clean up than the few seconds it took to say something you can’t take back.