If you’ve ever worked in a busy office, you know that phones are constantly ringing, fax machines are incessantly beeping and the click-clack of keyboard typing fills every moment of potential silence. It’s enough to drive a person to drink (after work cocktails anyone?). If you’ve ever worked in an office full of women, you know the job is even more interesting.
Recently, my friend Grace was telling me about her job. She works in for an insurance company in town and she is one of the five administrative assistants that manage to the day-to-day operations of a busy office. Five women in any room makes for a catty bitchy hormonal environment. Lately, Grace is having trouble getting along with one of her co-workers the frazzled expression on her face told me she needed to vent.
"I hate my co-worker," Grace told me. "She’s a freakin’ know-it-all who never shuts up and she makes life miserable for the rest of us. Eight hours with her is like eight hours in hell. I absolutely wish she’d just quit. Or get fired! That would make me smile."
Anita, aka Ms. Annoying, is in her late 50s and just recently began working at Grace’s company. Anita used to work for another insurance agency across town, and she believes she has superior intelligence over the other women in the office. According to Grace, Anita is not afraid to share her vast depths of knowledge with the other girls.
I’m sure we’ve all been in Grace’s shoes. If you haven’t had the pleasure of working with an Anita, consider yourself lucky. It’s stressful to deal with a difficult co-worker because it makes our jobs that much harder.
People with good social skills can get along with almost anyone, but what do you do when you just can’t seem to deal with Ms. Annoying?
In psychology class we learned that the key to being likeable is to adapt yourself to different types of social situations. Obviously, this does not mean you have to become someone your not (if it did, I want to be Jennifer Garner. Everyone loves her), but sometimes we change our personalities in little ways to help us understand and interact with many different people.
For example, how we socialize with our boss is more serious than with our significant other. We’re stern at work and relaxed at home. Even how we relate to each of our parents can be different. When hanging out with my father I’m free to be silly and funny; with my mom, I’m more reserved and serious. This is because I react differently to each of their unique personalities. Dad is outgoing and carefree, whereas my mother is more quiet and reticent.
Personality conflicts often affect the workplace and it can be difficult to know how to resolve them. I like to think that I’m happy-go-lucky and able to get long with anyone, but even the most laid-back workers can clash with others. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been so frustrated with a co-worker and had to fight the urge to quit a job (or punch the offender in the head).
What’s Grace to do? After thinking about her problem for several days, I’ve found some great advice for dealing with difficult co-workers.
The biggest mistake one can make in any relationship, work or otherwise, is expecting the other person to change. It’s so easy to overlook our own flaws and place blame on the other person. In a work environment, the person you don’t get along with sees you as the problem, not herself, and vice versa. In reality the only behavior we can change is our own.
This often means approaching the problem person differently. Grace says she hates that Anita places files on her desk to be completed with no notes as to why she’s put them there. Instead, Grace could sit down with Anita and come up with a system, such as leaving a post-it note on the file as to what needs to be done. Showing a willingness to cooperate may inspire the other person to change her behavior as well.
Another good piece of advice is to pick your battles. Just like raising children, we learn not to sweat the small stuff. If we go to the mat over every issue, we often add unnecessary tension to the relationship. Grace says that Anita insists on offering her advice and recommending that every detail of the job being done a certain way. It might be in Grace’s best interest to ignore Anita’s obsessiveness than to address it. Smiling politely and saying thank you can show the other person you appreciate the suggestion, while still allowing yourself to do the task your own way. And who knows? Your co-worker may offer you a tip you can use.
Another great idea? Agree to disagree. We can’t always get along with everyone. It’s just the way it is. If each person has a different idea, and refuses to budge it’s best not to try to persuade the other person to agree with you. Remember, don’t sweat the small stuff. If the other person doesn’t see your side of things, leave it at that and move on.
Sometimes, being the bigger person is the best way to handle a difficult co-worker. Fish can choose not to bite the line. Even if Ms. Annoying is baiting Grace or deliberately pushing her buttons, it’s easier to simply ignore the problem. Like a child during a temper tantrum, she just wants attention and will turn her energy somewhere else as soon as you freeze her out.
Of course, Grace can always go to her boss, but this option is a last resort. The last thing her manager needs to deal with is a petty argument between two employees. Obviously, if the problem has escalated to bullying or harassment, it’s necessary to bring the issue to the boss’s attention.
My favorite piece of advice? Remember, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere. Tucking a tiny bottle of tequila in your purse for those most frustrating moments might just do the trick. There’s nothing a little Cuervo can’t cure. What? You know I’m only kidding. It’s wrong to drink at the office. After work drinks anyone? I’ll meet you at the bar across from Grace’s office. Again, I’m kidding. Sort of.