Home Professionalisms Five Tools for Getting Along With Difficult Colleagues

Five Tools for Getting Along With Difficult Colleagues


by Robert V. Taylor, President of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation and author of “A New Way to Be Human: 7 Spiritual Pathways to Becoming Fully Alive

Difficult co-workers add to your workplace stress and the happiness you experience in your work. You are not alone. Surveys reveal that 70 percent of American workers find their jobs stressful. Instead of stoically putting up with or sidelining difficult co-workers you have a choice to be proactive and create an environment in which to get along. Your own satisfaction, happiness and productivity are at stake.

These five tools for replacing negative energy and conflict in the workplace with life-enhancing energy and productive relationships between you and your co-workers are a tool kit to use each day:

1. Trust Your Voice.

When we allow colleagues to define us by their expectations and assumptions of us we silence our own voice. This results in a confined view of who you are and what your capacity is. While it is not always safe to reveal certain aspects of what has shaped you, your unique experiences give you a perspective that enhances your ability to do your job well. Without trusting and using your voice you cannot engage your co-workers; you only endure them. Your unique voice is the vehicle for changing and building healthier collaborative workplace relationships.

2. Find Common Ground.

When a colleague complains about you pay attention to the emotion that the complaint reveals. Acknowledge what it being said to you and find common ground by sharing a story that reveals your being in a similar circumstance. By doing this you create empathy that emerges when you have the capacity to be in the shoes of another person. The landscape subtly and quickly shifts from complainer and complainant to acknowledging a common humanity. Tension is diffused making it easier to find solutions. Establishing common ground defuses stress and makes a happier workplace possible.

3. Practice Kindness.

Studies say kindness is one of the most desirable and respected traits that people identify in one another. In fast-paced work environments people juggle the urgent versus the important making work feel like a marathon. Practice offering one compliment or kindness to a colleague each day. Pay attention to how this impacts your relationship with a challenging co-worker and the positive effect that it has on your team. Simple words or acts of kindness change the energy and dynamic in the workplace as others notice and follow your lead. Kindness fosters a more collegial environment.

4. Cultivate Imagination.

Most difficult or crisis situations are the result of a lack of imagination because people feel walled-off from imagining creative solutions. Instead of head-locking with difficult co-workers, list two or three areas in which they excel and engage them on how to incorporate these into their daily functions. Incubating imagination and creativity has a rippling effect on the team you work with. Notice how it impacts your relationship with a challenging colleague and the way in which a more engaged, pleasant and productive environment is created.

5. Name Your Delight.

A grumpy, complaining co-worker sucks the life blood from around them. You do not need to be a passive bystander to this. Transform the situation by leading with a different energy. Name your happiness or delight about one thing each day to your challenging colleague or the team you work with. It might be delight about someone in the workplace, a project you are working on or something in your personal life. Your naming of delight is an invitation to others to do the same.  Be aware of how this shifts the energy of those you work with and offers others new lenses for experiencing their work.

These five tools allow you to proactively diffuse and engage difficult co-workers resulting in reduced stress in your experience of work. They also lay the ground for healthy constructive conflict for even the most conflict averse people. The kinder, more imaginative and human workplace that emerges by using these tools makes addressing the elephant in your workplace possible because you have created an environment in whichdifficult conversations are not assumed to be threatening. Your new common ground with co-workers creates levels of trust that allow you to engage the most significant issues facing your workplace.

In making these five tools part of your healthy approach to work, you invite all of your colleagues to a happier, more productive and less stressful way of experiencing work.


Robert V. Taylor is a speaker for corporate and professional groups.  He is the author of “A New Way to Be Human: 7 Spiritual Pathways to Becoming Fully Alive” and president of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation, which works to inspire young people to create a world of peace within, among and between people. Find him online at www.robertvtaylor.com.






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