'Back off!'

Getting that difficult co-worker off your back - and away from your cubicle

Posted: Sunday, January 14, 2007

Do annoying co-workers add more stress to your workday? It may take more than one approach to get them to leave you alone.

No matter how much you may love your job, the fact remains that it's impossible to get along with everyone. If you find yourself having to deal with a co-worker you find annoying or difficult, be sure to take the right steps.

Robin Bond, managing partner of Transition Strategies in Wayne, Pa., says there are enough personality types in today's workplace to weaken the resolve of even the heartiest of employees. In order to cope with the most difficult personalities, Bond suggests taking a three-step approach.

"First, keep personal notes about when the annoying behavior takes place and what happens," she says. "Do this at home or in a small notebook that you can keep on you at all times, never in a work computer. Along with these personal notes, see if you need to change anything about your own behavior."

Figure out how you can either look at the situation differently or how you'd like to see the co-worker act differently.

Think about it

Patti Fralix, Raleigh, N.C.-based author of the book "How to Thrive in Spite of Mess, Stress and Less" (Triunity Publishers, $18.95) adds that it's important to put enough thought into the conflict to determine whether you should confront or ignore it.

"The decision should be based on which approach will best allow the one annoyed to work collaboratively with the co-worker," says Fralix. "If it is just an annoying behavior that does not affect how the two individuals get the work done, ignoring it is best."

For step two, talk to your co-worker using a therapist's approach.

"Say 'When you do X it makes me feel Y,'" says Bond. "In this way, you are keeping the focus on your feelings which the co-worker can't dispute, versus calling him or her names or blaming them as people. Hopefully, the co-worker will respond maturely and desire to work out an amicable compromise. You should have a suggestion or two prepared to offer as to how you'd like to see things resolved."

Fralix says that when confronting the co-worker, be sure to consider the personality of the other person and match your communication style to theirs.

"Specifically, if they are an indirect communicator, you should be indirect using qualifiers appropriately," she says. "For example, do not say, 'You annoy me.' Say, 'At times you seem to not work as well with some of us as I know you want to.'"

If you choose to be direct, still be positive and professional, and focus on the impact of the other person's behavior on you.

"For example, say, 'When there is so much noise around me, I am not able to focus and get my work done,'" says Fralix. "Always focus on the impact on the work and productivity."

To the top

If that doesn't work, it's time to take the issue to your boss. Bond says bosses like to know that co-workers have at least tried to work things out before you run to them.

"When you go to the boss, be sure to frame the issue in a way that shows how the co-worker's behavior is having an adverse effect on the work getting done. Again, be prepared to offer a few suggestions for resolving the matter."

Fralix agrees that trying to work things out before hitting up the boss is the best approach.

"Do not report another's behavior to the manager unless and until you have spoken to them and given them the chance to correct the problem," she says. "Have the guts to face people directly and not go around them to the manager."

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