What do you do when a co-worker is blatantly hostile to you, takes credit for your work, and, cozying up to the boss whenever possible, undermines you at every opportunity, and what’s more, your boss doesn’t see it?
Dealing with difficult co-workers is a very common challenge for so many in workplace settings. Working together, often in close proximity, spending often well over 40 hours per week at work, our daily grind can feel nightmarish unless we have healthy and mutually-respectful relationships with our co-workers.
Coping with such a co-worker requires a delicate balance of assertiveness and gentleness. Always start by talking it over with the individual. It’s best to first ask your co-worker if you both can talk at a convenient time, perhaps over lunch or after work, but not when you’ll both feel rushed. Before you meet, make sure that you’ve taken a few deep breaths and are feeling as peaceful as possible. Close your eyes and try to imagine the talk playing out in the best possible way, envisioning even a hug or hand shake at the end, marking a mutual feeling of relief. At the very least, don’t go into the talk feeling angry or irritable. Then, candidly share your feelings about what?s going on. It’s most important that you use ‘I’ statements as to how you feel about the circumstances, trying as best you can not to direct blame, if at all possible, but rather to explain how certain events have left you feeling. This will increase the likelihood of your co-worker not getting his/her ‘back up’ and of your being truly heard.
If your colleague is reasonable, he or she may be able to hear your concerns and may surprise you by being sympathetic. It’s also possible, however, that your co-worker may have a different ‘take’ on things, perhaps even a grievance towards you, so be prepared for a different perspective. You may need to look at some of your own behavior as well. Or there may be other dynamics at play. Communication is a two-way street so try, as best you can, to be open to his/her feelings and perspective. If he/she is defensive and hostile, or unresponsive, and the situation doesn’t improve despite your best efforts, your options are three-fold.
You can pursue the matter with your supervisor and/or with HR and hope that things improve; you can decide to accept the situation as is, but only if you feel you can live with it without undue stress; or you can begin looking for other jobs, either within the organization or elsewhere. If you do choose to stay, be honest with yourself: if you feel you are living a hellish existence day-in and day-out at work with no realistic hope for change, then accepting the situation as is should not be an option simply because it’s not for the highest good.
The truth is, that in many workplaces, the level of unhealthy competition, bitter rivalries for a supervisor’s praise or affirmation, and sometimes vicious jealousies can often make ones work environment feel more like a dysfunctional family rather than a place of business. In fact, the work environment often replicates just that — a dysfunctional family — with the symbolic equivalent of a parent who’s codependent, unhealthy, and unequal in his/her treatment of the ‘kids’; and sibling rivalries between the ‘children’ for daddy or mommy’s attention and praise. Often there’s even the ‘golden boy’ (i.e. the preferred child) who can do no wrong, as well as the ‘black sheep’of the family, all played out at work on a subliminal, yet very real and palpable level.
It’s very important for you to have an honest appraisal about the above unconscious yet equally real dynamics that may be at play in your workplace. Know that the interpersonal dynamics within a corporate department or in a small business are often rather entrenched, based on the personalities of the ‘players’, their respective power within the organization, and the group dynamics. Thus, if the co-worker that’s causing you stress is the boss’s ‘golden boy/girl’and, thus, has his or her protection, it may be difficult, if not impossible to change the status quo.
An honest appraisal of the politics and whether there’s any maneuverability there is essential to deciding how to proceed. If such dysfunctional dynamics are at play and you do choose to ‘rock the boat’ and take matters to a supervisor or boss who is allied with your problematic co-worker, you’ll essentially be ‘fighting city hall’and not likely to succeed, no less so even if you take it a step further and proceed to HR. So be wise.
The ultimate challenge is to remain loving and not become angry or retaliatory even if the circumstances and alliances are not in your favor. In fact, this is the highest spiritual challenge — to be loving and kind to those who are not peaceful and thus, not kind to you. That doesn’t mean, however, remaining in a position where you are being abused or disrespected. Or one where you aren’t receiving the appropriate credit for your work. Loving yourself would have you be kind to yourself. And sometimes the most loving and kind thing you can do for yourself, when faced with adversity, and where you’ve remained calm and centered and have exhausted all other avenues of redress, is simply — to move on. The beauty is that you do, indeed, have the power of choice.