When Co-Workers Drive You Crazy

Dina Steiner, Founder and Director of Spirit at Work ATX

Conflict at work is inevitable. Each of us has our own particular viewpoints, work styles and agendas. And sometimes, we just get on each other’s nerves. So, what to do when a co-worker aggravates you or you are forced to work with someone you dislike? Remember what I often told my kids when they were growing up – you don’t have to be best friends with someone, or even like them that much, but you do have to treat everyone fairly and courteously.

When you feel like you’re on your last nerve, remember these tips (adapted from the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley):

  • Accept that you’re in a difficult position. Conflict happens. Sometimes, there is nothing you could have done to avoid it. Remember that anyone would be upset in your situation. You can’t always fix every situation, and you certainly can’t fix other people.
  • You are not the cause of someone else’s feelings – good or bad. Every adult is responsible for their own feelings and reactions. You didn’t cause someone to lash out or yell or behave badly. The responsibility for those actions are entirely their own. And, conversely, don’t blame your emotions on others. Acknowledge the situation without placing blame. Practice staying calm even when others are losing their minds.
  • Tell the truth about the situation without judgement. Stick with “I” statements such as “I am having a difficult time with this project. I’m not clear on what our objective is” rather than “You keep changing the objective on this and you make it impossible for me to meet deadlines.”
  • Soothe your own anxiety. It’s perfectly fine and normal to be stressed out after a day of dealing with a difficult co-worker or client, but don’t use that as an excuse to lash out at someone else. Take some time to de-stress with some deep breaths, after-work yoga or a long, hot bath.
  • Be kind. To yourself and your co-workers. Try a little forgiveness and a lot of empathy. Remember that no one is perfect and you probably get on someone’s nerves too.