There are few workplace situations as draining as dealing with a difficult co-worker.
And no, administering taser-therapy is not an option.
I'm often asked for advice on just this topic and am always on the hunt for the most relatable and actionable answer possible.
I found it in an unlikely place.
I was at my daughter's school to celebrate a project where students were paired with adults who had challenging life experiences--Holocaust survivors, war veterans, victims of unspeakable crimes. The students would hear and then relate their stories, learning about justice in the process.
In closing the event, the eighth-grade language arts teacher expressed a universal truth, a thread throughout the variety of stories she'd heard over the years.
It was a sentiment that stopped me in my tracks: We all fear something, love something, have lost something.
So true. So applicable to the case at hand.
Fear explains so much of undesirable human behavior. Perhaps that difficult co-worker really fears failure, criticism, change, or rejection (yes, even your rejection of them).
The problem is that fear engages our brain in the wrong conversation and distorts reality. It causes us to act in ways we don't intend or are unaware of.
Heck, neuroscience has proven that our fear of failure literally shuts down the part of our brain responsible for risk-taking and exploration. Maybe this is what's behind that conservative co-worker's behavior that's driving you nuts.
We all fear something. Even you. Consider this with that co-worker in mind.
On the more positive side, we all love something, are loved by someone, and have the capacity to love. So even that miserable co-worker is loved by somebody, even if it's not you.
And here's the key to this point--to be loved requires qualities worth loving.
Might you consider that in the case of your co-worker? Might you expand your own capacity to "love" and begin to look for what others see in that co-worker? Could you try to see them for what they are that is wonderful (to someone at least), rather than for what they aren't (according to your own narrowed worldview)?
Lastly, we most certainly have all lost something--your co-worker too.
Yes, it might be a loved one, even recently. But that co-worker also might have lost their dignity, support, sense of confidence, or career momentum (to name just a few culprits).
Might you consider this and approach that co-worker with compassion?
Compassion is the underpinning of community, and worth every ounce of energy you can invest.
So, yes. We all fear something, love something, have lost something.
Now go add to the list, have repaired something.