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Survive your Colleagues

How To… Survive your Colleagues


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There’s that old saying about being able to choose your friends but not your family.  That’s all well and good, but do you know what else you can’t choose?  Your colleagues.


Mostly that’s not a problem.  But sometimes… well, sometimes you’re left with the colleague from hell… which is far, far worse.  Not only do you get to spend your working days with them, but the blow isn’t softened by the compensatory benefits which come with having relatives from hell.  There’s no begrudging-yet-dutiful invitation to their wedding with the free bar, and there’s no outside chance that they’ll end up leaving you that lovely vase (kept in the family for years for sentimental reasons, but you actually suspect could be a Ming) in their Will when they die because your grandfather once bailed out their father’s business in the 70’s.


So how do you cope with a colleague who makes you want to rip off their shoes so you have something to beat them over the head with?


Here are 5 tips to help you survive your colleagues.  Prepare yourself, it involves some tough-talking…


1. Is there a trend?


Okay, so let’s get that tough-talking out of the way…


Have you experienced this issue several times before?  Is it happening with several people at this very moment?  If so, you might want to take a step back and consider whether the common denominator (i.e. you) could be the problem rather than someone else.


The way we’re feeling and thinking can often influence how we view situations, experiences and other people.  Or, as Steven Covey put it:


We see the world not as it is, but as we are.


Take a step back and view the situation from afar.  Be honest with yourself.  Is it them, or is it you?


2. Clear the air… often


There’s nothing worse than biting your lip day after day, after day.  It’s a little like pouring water behind an already full-to-bursting dam.  That wall can only hold so much until the water starts trickling over the top, the cracks in the concrete start to show and a tumultuous torrent bursts forth to devastate everything in its path.


The secret to avoiding these outbursts is to do exactly the same thing that makes the dam effective… prevent the overload by frequently releasing the pressure.  When it comes to infuriating coworkers, this involves seeking a productive and positive outcome together.  Find a quiet spot and discuss your concerns with them:


  • Put yourself in their shoes and imagine it was someone having this chat with you – use this to keep a check of yourself.  This is about clearing the air not “having a go”.
  • Focus on tangible actions and behaviours (i.e. “when you use profanity…”) rather than personal attributes (i.e. “you’re an awful person, you swear all the time”).
  • Keep it personal to you and how that behaviour/action affects you (i.e. “when you use profanity I feel intimidated.  I also find it offensive”).  Steer clear of the “everyone thinks it too” sort of business!
  • Keep your language constructive and avoid anything accusatory or overtly negative.
  • Let them know that you want to have the conversation for positive reasons – because you want to strengthen your working relationship, not ruin it.


Keep in mind that there are going to be some things that you should steer clear of when it comes to “clearing the air”.  For example, can you imagine someone telling you they hate your laugh, or that it drives everyone crazy when you call your husband/wife “bunnykins”?  There’s very little chance of having a constructive conversation about these things – they’re subjective and they’re personal.  Also, they have little “real” impact in the workplace… it’s not like that photograph of Sandra’s budgie on her desk is genuinely impacting you, your team, the work or your customer.  Leave these things alone and do your best to let them wash over you.


3. Adjust your Focus


We spend so much time in the workplace that having wonderful colleagues who we love, trust and adore could make even the most hideous of jobs an enjoyable experience.  But we don’t live in an ideal world and, as such, we’re frequently surrounded by people who annoy us, frustrate and enrage us.


Happily though, you’re paid to work and not to make friends or arrange fondue parties.  You’re not paid to like the people you work with, you’re paid to work with them.  Granted, to work with them you’ll have to put aside your urge to poke them in the eye with a spit covered finger; but it’s a whole different struggle to having to like them.


Adjust your focus and concentrate your energies on working effectively with them, rather than liking them.  You’ll be surprised how massive a difference that one little adjustment can make.


4. Re-position Yourself


I used to know a woman who worked with someone who drove her absolutely insane.  Each day, the person would do X, Y and Z, and each day the woman would react.  Sometimes she silently seethed at her desk.  Sometimes she furiously discussed with others about how infuriating the person was.  On one occasion, she had a complete hissy fit and everyone stared.


Ignoring the whys and wherefores of what’s right and wrong, there is a lesson here.  Each day, this woman went into her workplace knowing she’d be infuriated by this person.  And each day, regular as clockwork, she reacted.


Being reactive is never a comfortable place to be – it’s a position which has a tendency to expose our greatest weaknesses.  When we are reactive we’re never at our best – we can be defensive, rash and act without thought.  It’s far better to be prepared so that we can be proactive… or at least reactive in a smart and deliberate way.


  • Think about what bothers you when you interact with your colleague and consider how else you could respond to the situation.  For example, with Sandra’s budgie above – instead of silently seething that her children’s graduation pictures have been placed in her drawer so she can gaze longingly at “Mr Chirpy”, consider ignoring it, laughing it off or acknowledging that while you don’t understand, she must have a compelling reason for her actions.  Find out more in this article from Psychology Today, which provides some great advice about dealing with difficult colleagues using “psychological jujitsu”.
  • In the situation that’s bothering you (and ones similar to it) regain strength by modelling the appropriate behaviour.  So for example, if your colleague consistently reacts negatively to change (and you work in an ever-changing environment), demonstrate the qualities of someone who works positively with change.  Don’t be obvious about it and don’t showboat, simply (in the words of Gandhi) be the change you want to see.


5. Keep the Standard


When a colleague keeps stepping outside what is acceptable (whether it be legally, ethically or in terms of company policy etc) you’ve got two choices: ignore it or acknowledge it.


The problem with ignoring unacceptable behaviour is that it never solves the problem.  Trust me, I’ve learnt from bitter experience… ignoring the issue never makes it go away.  If anything, it appears to heap fuel on the fire; helping it burn stronger, hotter and for longer.  The other problem is that by overlooking blatantly unacceptable behaviour, you’re implicitly condoning it.  You might as well turn to the person and say “yes, please feel free to swear/shout/fling cat poo at me whenever you like”.


Acknowledging it can be hard.  Especially when everyone else appears to be ignoring it… or worse still, if it’s your boss.  But if it’s unacceptable and it’s impacting you (or your customers), it has to be dealt with.


How that’s best handled is a decision you need to make after weighing up your options and considering the particulars of the situation.  Seek out counsel from someone you trust and take the step; bolstered in the knowledge that you’ve chosen doing what’s right over what’s easy.


Find out More:


Psychological Jujitsu

How to Deal with a Difficult Colleague

Dealing with Difficult People at Work


2 thoughts to “Survive your Colleagues”

    1. Hi Marianne! Thank you for reading & for your amazingly kind words – I’m glad you enjoyed reading it 🙂

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