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4 Tactics that Backfire When Coping with a hard Colleague

When youre at your wits end with a challenging colleague also it feels as though youve tried everything, well-meaning friends and coworkers may tell you firmly to just ignore it or even to suck it up and move ahead together with your life. But suppressing our emotions rarely helps. In this piece, the writer outlines four tactics which are tempting to use but often backfire when coping with a hard colleague. A different one in order to avoid: waiting to see if your difficult colleague will just leave by themselves. Your dream that theyll go out the door will come true, but theres no guarantee that the culture will shift or that youll be friends with their replacement. Ultimately youre better off attempting to develop a workable situation together with your colleague now. And remember: even small improvements could make an impact.

Among the best questions to ask those who are dealing with a hard colleague is:What can you do concerning this situation in the event that you could do anything you wanted?

In researching and writing my book, Getting Along: How exactly to Use Anyone (Even Difficult People), I had the chance to ask this question of a large number of people, and the answers usually ranged from practical to entertaining to a little scary (there are several people who desire to punch an annoying colleague in the facial skin!). Many fantasize about quitting dramatically. Others would like to tell their coworker just how they feel without mincing words.

I ask this question because I’d like visitors to think expansively about how exactly they could respond, and frequently, without constraints, they land on a technique that might really work (not punching someone in the facial skin!).

But you can find several tactics which are less productive that people sometimes gravitate toward because we think theyll help us feel much better, when in most cases, they often times backfire. They could alleviate our pain for a while but are ultimately harmful to us, your partner, and our company. Avoiding these common tactics will prevent you from making things worse.

Suppressing your emotions

When youre at your wits end with a challenging colleague also it feels as though youve tried everything, well-meaning friends and coworkers may tell you firmly to just ignore it or even to suck it up and move ahead together with your life. This can be advice if youre truly in a position to ignore it. But often we decide were likely to do only actually find yourself doing a lot of things, whether its stewing concerning the situation, talking incessantly about any of it to your partner, or becoming passive-aggressive. Suppressing our emotions rarely helps.

Actually, psychologist Susan David writes that suppressing your emotions deciding not saying something when youre upset can result in bad results. She explains that should you dont express your feelings, theyre more likely to arrive in unexpected places.

Psychologists call this emotional leakage. David explains:

Perhaps you have yelled at your partner or child following a frustrating trip to work a frustration that had nothing in connection with [them]?Once you bottle up your feelings, youre more likely to express your emotions in unintended ways instead, either sarcastically or in a totally different context. Suppressing your emotions is connected with poor memory, difficulties in relationships, and physiological costs (such as for example cardiovascular health issues).

Basically, sucking it up doesnt usually reduce your stress level. It increases it.

The chance that youll take your negative feelings from innocent bystanders isnt the only real reason in order to avoid this plan. Caroline Webb, writer of How exactly to Have an excellent Day, highlights that, as the intention behind pretending youre not upset with a hard colleague could be good perchance you desire to preserve the partnership theyre more likely to sense your irritation anyway. Due to emotional contagion, they could not be conscious that you harbor negativity toward them, nonetheless it will still impact them. Your passive-aggressiveness will come through, even yet in remote work environments, she explained within an interview for my book. Research shows that its not only you who suffers the physical impact of suppression either. In the event that you hide anger or frustration, the blood circulation pressure of these around you will probably rise aswell. They could not know just what youre feeling and thinking, however they register underlying tension likewise.


Another tempting reaction to mistreatment would be to fight fire with fire. If your passive-aggressive teammate says a very important factor in a gathering and does something very different afterward, you will want to do exactly the same in their mind? Or if your pessimistic colleague will probably poke a zillion holes in your opinions, why shouldnt you take them down if they suggest something new? Unfortunately, stooping with their level doesnt generally work. You intensify the sensation to be on opposing sides instead of giving the dynamic an opportunity to change. And retaliation often enables you to look bad. Or worse, it violates your values.

In order to avoid giving in to the (understandable) desire to have revenge, invest in behaving consistent with your values. Sometimes its beneficial to write them down. The facts that you value? What counts most for you? If youre uncertain, consider considering a couple of universal values and see which resonate with you, listing them to be able worth focusing on. Then, when youre creating a plan for the way you want to react to your insecure boss or biased coworker, make reference to the list and ensure that the tactics you land on align together with your values.


When Im coping with a person who pushes my buttons, I often fantasize about sending a contact to everyone who knows them, outing them as a jerk. My (flawed) logic is that when the one who has wronged me is humiliated enough, they’ll be forced to improve their ways.

Bob Sutton, writer of The No Asshole Rule, summed it up in this manner: Calling people an asshole is among the most reliable methods to turn someone into an asshole or make sure they are hate you. Thats because feelings of shame rarely inspire us to behave better; more regularly, they make us lash out further.

I love just how that Bren Brown distinguishes between shame and guilt and explains their relative usefulness:

I really believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful its holding something weve done or didn’t do against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.

I define shame because the intensely painful feeling or connection with believing that people are flawed and for that reason unworthy of love and belonging something weve experienced, done, or didn’t do makes us unworthy of connection.

I dont believe shame is effective or productive. Actually, I believe shame is a lot more prone to bring on destructive, hurtful behavior compared to the solution or cure. I believe worries of disconnection could make us dangerous.

Making your colleague feel like theyre a negative person, labeling them as a jerk or as a person who plays the victim, is unlikely to boost your relationship.

Similarly, dehumanizing a hard coworker doesnt help. Its an easy task to demonize the one who causes us harm, but hating them only pits you against each other. Instead, ensure that every step of just how, you remind yourself that youre coping with a fellow human, not just a robot or an arch villain.

Hoping your colleague will leave

A lot of us bank on outlasting our difficult colleagues and concentrate on making the problem workable until they get fired or move ahead to some other job. But be cautious of putting all your eggs in the eventually theyll be gone basket. Sutton warns that sometimes removing the bad apples does little to improve the underlying issue, particularly if your colleagues obnoxious behavior is validated by the organizational culture. Often other activities have to change to avoid incivility, he says things such as the incentive system, whos promoted and rewarded, how meetings are run, and the pressure folks are under to execute.

A couple of years ago, the top of HR for a medical health insurance company asked me to teach their staff on how best to have difficult conversations. She explained they had an extremely hierarchical culture and were having difficulty getting visitors to speak up, especially with ideas that challenged the status quo. Nine years earlier, theyd done a survey that showed employees felt it had been an extremely command and control environment. Determined to evolve, executives led several culture change initiatives and hired new leaders who have been known for having a far more collaborative and less autocratic style. Those leaders also replaced people on the teams in order that within that nine-year period, almost 80% of the employee population had turned over, including the majority of the leadership team. However when they conducted the culture survey again, they got almost a similar results. The exasperated HR executive explained, Its like its in the water here.

Sometimes its not individual those who are the problem however the systems that allow, and perhaps encourage, hostility over cooperation. And systems are hard to improve. Your dream your difficult coworker will go out the door will come true, but theres no guarantee that the culture will shift or that youll be friends with their replacement. Ultimately youre better off attempting to develop a workable situation together with your colleague now than hoping things will improve should they leave.

Do you want to always be in a position to avoid these flawed responses? No. Nobodys perfect, and these unproductive approaches are seductive. But in the event that you get yourself a flat tire, you dont repair the problem by slashing another three tires. Once you strike out with the initial tactic (or several tactics) you select, try another thing or touch base for help. Maybe your boss, a pal, or perhaps a mutual colleague can provide a novel solution. The main point is to help keep at it; remember: even small improvements could make an impact.

This short article is excerpted from Amys Gallo book, Getting Along: How exactly to Use Anyone (Even Difficult People) (Harvard Business Review Press 2022).

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