Regardless of our professional field, at one time or another we have all had to deal with coworkers who behave in an unprofessional manner, with actions that range from willful defiance of instructions to gossiping about fellow coworkers. Our jobs are already stressful enough without the added drama from others in the workplace. The following four tips will help you deal more effectively with problematic coworkers.
Tip #1 – Address the Negative Behavior
Do not be afraid to speak directly to your coworker about their inappropriate or negative behavior, as any situation can quickly deteriorate if left to its own devices. This conversation should be had in private, so as to avoid creating a scene in front of bosses or other coworkers. Oftentimes, people are completely unaware their actions make others uncomfortable. In these cases, an earnest conversation can solve the problem. Other times, however, a person may be comporting themselves inappropriately to call attention to some distinct issue. Either way, when talking to your coworker, make sure they understand it’s their behavior, not them personally, that is inappropriate, and offer a viable suggestion on how they can improve.
Tip #2 – Listen Without Reacting
Take time to listen for the actual issue that your coworker is trying to address. You will most likely need to bite your tongue and keep your opinion to yourself for a bit in order to do this, but by actively listening to the other person, you will know what the real problem is. After you have given them time to air their complaints, do not react with anger or hostility. Remain calm and neutral, and show a willingness to work together to address the issue. You can often defuse a potentially explosive situation by remaining calm and speaking in a low tone of voice.
Tip #3 – Focus on the True Issue, Not the Person
Active listening is the process of analyzing the message a person is trying to relate, cutting through the emotions they attach to their communication. While these emotions should never be ignored, they will be best addressed by attempting to solve the underlying issue. Everybody reacts in different ways to stress, and while you may not like the way a coworker is expressing their stress, the fact that something is causing them stress is what needs to be the focus of the conversation.
Tip #4 – Follow Up
Keeping annotated records of meetings and conversations you have with your coworker is simply best practice. These notes can serve to remind both you and your (hopefully) previously unprofessional coworker of commitments and solutions you worked together to create. Periodically checking in with your coworker and keeping open communications should create an environment where professional issues are handled in a professional manner.
While we may sometimes be tempted to look the other way when coworkers act in an unprofessional manner, there does come a time when we can no longer avoid those negative behaviors. Rather than cringing anytime you see this type of coworker in your workplace, take the first step in making your work environment agreeable and beneficial to all by using one or all four of these tips to resolve the underlying issues that cause the problematic behavior.