Most people have encountered at least one during their careers — a difficult co-worker who makes showing up and doing a good job that little bit harder.

From the constant whinger to the credit thief and the off-loader, workplaces are littered with challenging personalities.

But career coaches warn reacting negatively to co-workers will have a lasting impact on individual job satisfaction and productivity.

Keeping negative emotions in check and communicating needs clearly are more likely to deliver a positive outcome.

Director of Positive People Solutions Ken Warren said if the difficult behaviour could not simply be ignored or endured, then direct communication was needed.

“I don’t know of any perfect people or any perfect workplace, ” Mr Warren said. “The chances are we have all been someone’s ‘difficult’ person at some stage. Don’t assume people know what you need. Find a way to communicate your needs and reshape the behaviour.”

He said research had shown Australians were indirect communicators who would often ignore a difficult situation and let it fester, resulting in angry flare-ups. Dealing with difficult people and situations, preferably face-to-face in an informal way, would defuse most tensions.

Mr Warren said there were examples of co-workers who had hidden agendas, personality disorders or sociopathic tendencies. If colleagues continued to be difficult over prolonged periods, taking the issue to management was recommended.

If the issue was causing health problems, including sleep disruptions and changes to eating habits, workers should consider moving away from the offending behaviour.

Adele Sinclair, of Wellness at Work Australia, said trying to get to know a difficult co-worker and understanding their personal work style were crucial to personal satisfaction.

“Identify why you feel negatively towards that person, ” Ms Sinclair said. “Are you dealing with a difficult person or just someone who is different? Sometimes if you can focus on their good characteristics rather than the bad, the problem can seem less frustrating.”

Taking a helicopter view of the situation or asking a trusted colleague to survey interactions could also help but communicating with the troublesome co-worker in a casual way was the first step.

“It’s important for workers not to label people. It blocks the ability to get some positive change, ” Ms Sinclair said. “Sometimes just a casual comment or some humour is enough to make your point in a non-confrontational way.

“If you’ve reached a situation where you’ve done everything in your power to improve things, including making a more formal complaint, and the behaviour continues or escalates into damaging power plays or affects your health, it might be time to make a clean smooth move.”


© The West Australian

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