How to handle tricky colleagues and boost engagement

Lilli Hender

How to handle tricky colleagues and boost engagement

There are a variety of factors that make for a happy workplace and colleague interactions certainly play a large part. The way people work together in a company forms part of the culture, but it’s more than that. The way you feel about your co-workers and the way in which you interact has an impact both personally and professionally. Sometimes you simply don’t click with a colleague and it isn’t good for you or the business; here are a few approaches to take on board when you’re faced with this situation.

Recognise the benefits

When the journal 'Personality and Social Psychology Review' analysed 58 studies into social comfort in the workplace, they discovered there are physical and psychological benefits to be had. It didn’t make a difference what kind of sector you worked in either, if you got on with your colleagues, your workplace health and wellbeing was significantly better.

It makes sense: spending time with people you enjoy being around is going to make a difference to your happiness levels, which will have a knock-on effect on your physical and mental health. You don’t have to be the best of friends with your co-workers, but the more effort you make to get on with them, the more you should get in return.

The importance of empathy

A good dose of empathy is often what’s needed when it comes to dealing with difficult colleagues. If you take time to try to understand why they sent that blunt email or stuck the passive aggressive Post-It on your desk, it might help the two of you work things out.

Phrases like “I know this can be frustrating” or “I’ve noticed you feel like this…” show you’ve taken on board their point of view (even if it’s one you don’t agree with!). It isn’t always easy to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, but if you try, you might find a new perspective and stumble upon a solution that benefits everyone.

Be positive (or at least try!)

Little things can go along way: listen to your colleagues without interrupting; ask for their opinion; give praise and encouragement; and smile! Making someone feel valued should help to break down negativity - when someone is being nice to you, it’s hard to be horrible in return.

Another tip to bear in mind is moaning for the sake of moaning doesn’t get you anywhere. Grumbling about a troublesome colleague to other work acquaintances might provide short-term catharsis but it only serves to reinforce and spread negative associations. Plus, it might get back to them and that will sour things further.

Honesty is a great policy

There’s a fine line between being open and oversharing. When it comes to work-related matters however, it’s generally only ever a good thing to be honest. Pretending you’re fine, or trying to sweep a problem under the ugly office carpet won’t help. Attempt to confront the issue of a challenging working relationship head on.

This can be done in a few ways: speak to the member of staff directly; speak to a member of management; or speak to HR. The latter two may sound daunting but this doesn’t have to the case. Such a conversation can take place informally (online or in person) and when companies should encourage a culture of openness and constructive feedback, your problem should be met with a supportive and helpful attitude. An online platform can empower employees to voice their opinions and give feedback in meetings, which in turn can cause your meeting to be more transparent and productive. 

Retreat! Retreat!

If you’re really struggling, sometimes the best way to manage a cranky co-worker is to give them (but mainly yourself) some space. Stick in your headphones to provide a bit of escapism or better yet, try working in a break-out area, or even further afield at home.

Work/life balance is increasingly hard to come by and creating a degree of separation between your work life and your private life can help and has further benefits too! Remote working is your friend in a situation like this, but, with a bit of effort your troublesome colleague could be just that, instead.

Want to read more tips like this? Read Office Genie's blog here.

If you want to know the challenges that businesses face within meetings, why not read the World's Worst Meetings Infographic.