From passive-aggressive types to naysayers, bullies, ball droppers, brown nosers and those that are just downright rude, we will inevitably cross paths with difficult people.
At some point in your career, the odds are good you will be working closely with someone who is more negative than positive in their outlook. As taxing as it may be, you are not helplessly stuck in this situation.
Here are a few strategies for dealing with adversarial colleagues.
1. Find a sounding board.
Talk the situation over with a confidant, supervisor, or mentor. Take notice if others are expressing similar concerns about this particular person. If you seem to be the only one with the experience, analyze what you may be doing to exacerbate the situation. Ask for feedback from a person you trust to give you solid advice.
2. Focus on your reaction.
You have no control over anyone but yourself. Even if someone's behavior makes you see red, you have a choice as to how to respond. Difficult people thrive on the power they get from provoking others, so don't give them the satisfaction of annoying you. Stay calm and speak civilly when dealing with the person. If you can muster a smile and sense of humor, even better.
3. Speak up.
When a coworker does something disagreeable, address it professionally. Some people are able to respond immediately; while others prefer to have time to collect their thoughts before reacting. Whichever camp you fall in, address the problem with the offender, privately and as soon as possible: "Jesse, I didn't like it when you criticized my work in front of our clients. In the future, if you have a problem, talk to me first." Sometimes an office cynic will back down if they know you won't accept their behavior.
4. Keep your distance.
To the degree that it's possible, stay away from the toxic colleague. This isn't always possible, but if someone regularly treats you with hostility, do what you can to avoid working directly with them. For example, don't meet face to face when an email will suffice.
5. Elevate your behavior.
When you sink to their level and play nasty, it can justify their actions. After all, you're being a jerk too. But when you rise above the fray and treat them well regardless of how they act towards you, a couple of things happen: you are doing the right thing by setting the standards for your own behavior instead of letting someone else do it for you, and your example may just shock them into better behavior.
6. Put it in writing.
It may not be safe to leave important decisions to a verbal agreement. To protect yourself, follow up by capturing the critical points in a quick email: "As we discussed, I will get you the sales figures by Wednesday for you to complete the quarterly report by Friday." Copying others involved has a way of keeping everyone on track, and it's harder for problem coworkers to come back with a different story.
7. Forge strong alliances.
The difficult person may irritate everyone around them, or they may have set their sights on you alone. Either way, you need a strong network of support. Build strategic, positive relationships both to demonstrate your ability to work well with others and to help keep your morale up.
8. Avoid complaining.
Don't let this person define your experience at work or turn you into someone who incessantly whines. If it gets to the point where you feel like the answer is to confront the individual or involve your supervisor, you need to stick to the facts. Unfortunately, hurt feelings don't count for much in many workplaces, but results do.
This is especially true if your workplace antagonist is your supervisor. It's one thing if they have a disagreeable personality, but it's another if they are doing things that violate company policy or constitute harassment. If this is the case, write down each incident with a time, date and notes about what happened. Do this in a personal notebook, not on the company computer. You will need good documentation if it needs to go to higher levels.
10. Reserve the right to leave.
Some work environments simply turn a blind eye to conflict among employees. If you can't resolve your issues and work in a supportive, pleasant atmosphere, consider transferring to another department or moving on to a better job.