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Career Advice

How To Deal With Challenging Colleagues

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

Last Updated 14 May 2020
|3 min read

Throughout your career it’s inevitable you’ll come across challenging colleagues or managers. This could be for a variety of reasons, whether it’s poor communication, differences in opinion or perhaps general conflict within your environment. The first instinct for many people is to hold a defence against whatever challenge has presented itself. Although, we have some other ideas about how to handle conflict and deal with challenging colleagues.

To start, it’s a good idea to reframe how you define challenges. Challenges can be seen as negative events to avoid, or you could accept them as a required ingredient to drive growth & development. Whether it’s personal growth, or growth within your team - internal challenges can help drive accountability, focus & growth.

With this in mind, it’s important to consider what the source of the issue is. Could it be a challenging environment which is creating tension and stress? Are you and your colleague communicating in fundamentally different ways? How about personal opinions, is someone letting them drift into work?

The most common reason why we have conflicts with colleagues is differences in communication styles. Although you may be speaking the same language, you or your colleague may be communicating in a way which is different to your natural style. To create strong connections with colleagues and overcome these communication problems, we need to work on building rapport. There are many great communication courses available to help you master this art. It may be worth looking at Neuro-lingustic programming (NLP), which addresses our levels of communication & building rapport.

When a conflict arises, you are presented with an opportunity to find a solution. It’s important to avoid acting on emotion, but rather face challenges with logic. If for example you had a challenging meeting, or receiving an email which causes conflict - don’t act in the moment when you may be more emotional. Be professional, communicate effectively and spend your time focussing on a solution.

Your working environment or company culture may be causing conflicts within the team too. If you can influence or control these factors, then a transparent working environment will help create openness within the team. New hires and exiting employees can impact these factors so effective on boarding and exits are crucial to avoid these.

You won’t always be friends with your colleagues, and you may not have anything in common but if you’re working together you must focus on what needs to be done. You may want to take a smoothing approach, where you accommodate the needs of your colleague. We wouldn’t recommend compromising as this is a lose/lose and you’re not actually dealing with the challenge, but avoiding it. In these cases, effective communication and a solution-driven approach to whatever the challenge may be will help you find a remedy.

We’d recommend wherever possible, focus on collaborating and problem solving - this is the most effective approach to challenging colleagues. If you think you’ve tried everything but are still not making any progress, then think of these as opportunities for personal development. Through these events you’ll grow and develop your ability to handle challenging people & test your approach to conflict management.