By Ashley Stahl, Originally Published in Forbes
My career coaching client — we’ll call her Stacey — contacted me this past week for career advice. She was upfront that her main motivation for leaving her current job is that she doesn’t get along with her co-workers — a total bummer since she actually really enjoys the work she’s doing and overall likes the company she works for.
I get it — going to work every day and being surrounded by people who just aren’t your speed can take a toll. And on the flip side, the jobs I’ve had that I enjoyed the most (and the clients who end up the happiest in their positions with new employers) are those who have a positive dynamic with co-workers. Reporting to work every day where you’re surrounded by people you love, respect, and admire can make a world of difference in your day-to-day attitude, not to mention that it boosts productivity and makes employees more loyal to their employers.
Stacey’s dilemma got me thinking…when you find yourself in the midst of a less-than-stellar dynamic with co-workers, is it best to cut your losses and move on, or are there ways to adjust to the dynamic or perhaps improve it?
Here are some tips on how to deal with negative co-worker relationships.
- Be direct. There’s nothing wrong with approaching a colleague who’s being prickly and asking if something is going on. I actually had a co-worker do this once. She was under the impression that I didn’t like her, which was absolutely not the case, but I could see how my actions had inadvertently given her that impression. I felt terrible — it was basically a huge misunderstanding. I genuinely respected her for being direct with me about it instead of letting it fester, and our relationship improved substantially after we talked things out.
- Be empathetic. I wrote about the importance of empathy in my recent article on how to deal with difficult bosses, and the same goes for dealing with difficult co-workers. Put yourself in their shoes. Are they dealing with personal issues that are putting them in a bad mood? Are they on tight deadlines and under a lot of stress? Trying to understand where someone is coming from can give you insight into their behaviors and help you better manage their quirks.
- Don’t take it personally. It might be hard not to, but this is really important in managing the relationship. Know that their bad behavior was there before you became their co-worker, and it’ll likely still be there one you’ve moved on. It’s not about you. Even though they’re taking it out on you, you’re truly not the cause, so try to take it with a grain of salt.
- Rise above the pettiness. Stooping to their level will only negatively affect your professional reputation. If you let the negativity get to you, you risk compromising your own productivity and decision-making abilities at work, so do your best to not let negative co-workers affect your mindset.
- Have a chat with HR. That’s what they’re there for — after you’ve tried to talk to the coworker directly. You don’t necessarily have to file a formal complaint or anything, but HR reps are trained to deal with employee conflicts, and they can likely offer you tools and advice to improve or at least better manage the relationship.
- Cut your losses and move on. Do some soul-searching and ask yourself whether it’s really worth staying in your current situation. Some situations can be adjusted and managed. Others are so toxic, you’ll never be able to thrive. Know when it’s time to move on so that you’re not allowing the situation to hold you back. There’s no shame in doing what you need to do for yourself, for the sake of not only your career but also your peace of mind and well-being.
In Stacey’s case, she’s decided that any attempts to improve or adjust her work situation wouldn’t be worth her while, so she’s committed to finding a new job and an improved work environment, which I’m confident she’ll find it. She’s been in the job market less than a week and has already gotten a few hits. But every situation is different. Do what’s best for you, whether it means putting in the effort to smooth things over or moving on.
…And know that you’re worth it.