5 Tips to Calm Workplace Stress with a Difficult Co-worker

You spend a significant portion of your life at work. In fact, you probably see your coworkers for more hours each week than you see your loved ones. This means that when you encounter workplace stress it can have a significant impact on your life. Ideally, the people at work often become like a second family. But some of your relationships with coworkers can be a real challenge. You don’t have a choice about whether to spend time with difficult people at work. Fortunately, you can take some proactive steps to reduce workplace stress and communication problems.

1. Look at Your Own Role

Difficult coworker interactions always involve at least two people: you and the difficult person. But what you may not recognize is your own role in those relationships. If there’s one person in the office who everyone finds difficult, then you need to learn how to manage your communication with that person. Are they pushing your buttons on a regular basis? Try responding in a different way when they trigger your annoyance. If it seems like several of your coworkers are difficult, take an honest look at the situation. Is it time for a change? Would you be happier working in a different department, for example?

2. Talk to Them One-on-One—In Private

If there’s someone at work who consistently gets under your skin, it’s worthwhile to directly address the issue with them. Workplace stress and communication problems are often fixable, but they won’t go away on their own. Show respect for your coworker by sharing your concerns with them in private. Even if your entire department has a problem with one employee, having a group discussion will feel like being ganged up on. Someone who is unhappy and difficult at work may be unaware of how their behavior is affecting others. Use “I” statements about what you perceive the problems to be. Avoid accusatory “you” statements. Be as kind as possible when explaining your concerns.

3. Model the Behavior You Want to See

Not everyone has office-ready behavior. Complaints about bosses, spending all day on personal calls, or browsing the internet and avoiding work are just some of the most common bothersome workplace behaviors. Even if you can’t convince them that their behavior is unprofessional, you can model more appropriate actions instead. When your coworker complains about anything, answer back with a positive response. After going through this a few times, they will most likely get the hint.

4. Be Specific in Your Concerns About Workplace Stress

When you talk to your coworker about the behavior and communication problems that bother you, it’s important to come prepared with specific examples. You won’t be taken very seriously if the concerns you mention to your coworker are vague. Being able to say “I felt frustrated when you took credit for my idea on the Johnson account” is much more specific and effective than saying you feel like they steal your ideas. Direct communication is important in every relationship, but especially at work. Avoid passive-aggressive statements and don’t dismiss your own feelings as unimportant. Many of us find it awkward to be direct about our feelings when we’re frustrated or unhappy, but beating around the bush makes it worse. With time and practice, becoming more direct will become easier.

5. Don’t Take Their Behavior Personally

It’s a normal human reaction to take others’ behavior personally. If someone is short-tempered and rude to us, we may assume that it’s because of something we did. But they might actually be having a bad day. If your coworker seems to be having a constant string of bad days or does not manage his or her own workplace stress well, don’t assume that it’s an interpersonal conflict or that they just don’t like you. This is another example of a time when talking to people directly is the best approach. You may find out that your difficult coworker is going through stressful life events like a divorce or caring for an aging parent. By keeping the lines of communication open, you may discover more about your coworker that will increase your compassion for them.

Final Thoughts

The workplace is often stressful and there are many things about it that we can’t change. But even though coworker relationships can be difficult, we can create more harmony in the workplace by improving our communication with one another.