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Coping with Coworkers

By Laura Sweeney

What do you do when personalities clash in the office, or when your coworker takes credit for something you did, misses a deadline, or just plain annoys you?

Recognize the goals and responsibilities you share by virtue of working in the same office.
Organizations boast about the "family" atmospheres that exist among their staffs-they say their employees work as a unit, and respect and support one another. But all of us know that in any family, at home or at work, conflict comes with the territory.

Resolving a conflict at work calls for more discretion than dealing with a forgiving family member. Coworkers who may not even like each other are obliged to cooperate in intensely interdependent workplaces. Working in teams, as so many organizations do, can make for some combustible situations.

Play Nicely, and Directly
Ignoring an irritating colleague is not a viable solution if you are required to work with him on a regular basis. If you don't directly address a poor working relationship it can cause you stress and anxiety, it can create tension in the office, and it will harm the entire team's performance.

So what do you do when personalities clash in the office, or when your coworker takes credit for something you did, misses a deadline, talks behind your back, or just plain annoys you?

  • You and your coworker don't have to be friends; just focus on improving your working relationship. Recognize the goals and responsibilities you share by virtue of working in the same office, and communicate this common ground to each other in a straight-forward, non-threatening discussion.
  • Talk about the barriers that are preventing you from doing your jobs as they relate to one another. Recognize your own faults, too. And above all, listen to what the other person is saying.
  • Talk about solutions. Work with your colleague to remedy the situation by agreeing to be mindful of the issues that each of you are bothered by. Your goal should be to build a mutual understanding.

For example, you might be frustrated that your teammate acts defensively when you offer suggestions related to his work. If you and he can agree that you are working toward the same goal-to submit a complete, polished product-and if you also ask for his comments on your work, he likely will be more receptive to your suggestions.

  • You can't "fix" the other person. Personalities aren't changeable, so don't try.
  • A little bit of respect never hurts. Respect your coworker because (if for no other reason) he's a human being. It's not helpful to judge whether he deserves your respect.

One last note: most employers don't want to be bothered by daily hassles. Disagreements and personality conflicts are better handled on your own. But if the situation is unfairly damaging your reputation, then it's a good idea to involve your supervisor.

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