Difficult co-workers; every workplace has them. Maybe they’re incompetent; or maybe they have bad work ethics. Whatever the case, they can affect your own work performance and threaten your professional reputation, or they can lower workplace morale and bring down an entire department’s productivity. Dealing with them can be tricky but they have to be dealt with promptly but properly before they cause any real damage to you, other co-workers, and/or the entire department.
Experts echo the same advice; when a co-worker is openly hostile or goes out of their way to make your life at work difficult and stressful, you have to deal with them immediately when the situation calls for it. You should not overlook any bad behavior or attitude as this is tantamount to condoning and reinforcing the behavior or attitude. You have to let them know when they’re stepping out of line.
According to Beth Sears, president of Workplace Communication, a consulting firm based in Scottsville N.Y., “By not responding to inappropriate behavior or communication, you’re reinforcing that behavior. You’re actually telling that person that it is OK to communicate with you in that manner. You should address issues as they happen.” She adds that you have to determine if you are communicating properly through email, memos, instant messages, and even social media.
You should also figure out if you are part of the problem, if you are ignoring issues and enabling bad behavior or being confrontational and making things worse.
A well-known study conducted by Justin Kruger and David Dunning from Cornell University also found that a worker’s bad attitude may be the result of ignorance. Their findings, which were published in 1999, revealed that employees who are below-average are often unaware oblivious to their own shortcomings and tend to overestimate their abilities. When they are criticized, they often do not understand why and react as if the criticism is a personal attack.
Should you get the human resources department or your boss involved when you’re having problems with a co-worker? Dave Logan, a leadership and management teacher at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, says you have to weigh the political costs of such an action before taking it. If the problem can be resolved without getting anybody else involved, then take that course. If the two of you can negotiate a truce and agree to focus on matters that affect both of you, then do it.
In the case of an ineffectual co-worker, Logan’s advice is: “Find what they’re good at and let them do it.” If you are sharing workloads, renegotiate the split so that the problem co-worker’s tasks favor his strengths. If you end up taking on more work than your co-worker, this can still work in your favor. Especially when the output of your combined work will reflect on your overall performance, taking on more responsibility would ensure excellent feedback. Additionally, you can get positive marks on it during your next performance review or a future job interview for a promotion or with another company. Just remember to be subtle when you take ownership and the due credit for the work that you did.
If the issue does require the involvement of a third party, be discreet about the whole affair. Don’t bring up the issue during meetings; being vocal about your grievances with regards to a problem co-worker may backfire on you, especially when the person involved is well-liked by other co-workers. Always remain professional even when the problem co-worker is not.