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Career and Interview Tips

How to Deal With Bad Coworkers

Pleasantly Dealing with Unpleasant People

The workplace is a microcosm of society. Everyday we encounter people who are different from us and in the office you'll find people with different working styles, levels of emotional intelligence, communication skills, values, and perspectives.

So it should come as no surprise that, when working in close quarters with others day in and day out, we may find ourselves having to deal with difficult people.

Have you had to deal with an unpleasant coworker?

Whether it's a toxic colleague, difficult team, or horrible boss, finding techniques to help you pleasantly deal with unpleasantries in the office is key to bringing more harmony to your nine-to-five.

To tackle this topic we hosted an interactive chat with Limor Bergman Gross, a mentor and coach who has been leading tech teams for over 15 years. She is the Director of Mentorship at PowerToFly and is passionate about helping women succeed in the tech industry.

"You can be a delicious, ripe peach and there will still be people in the world that hate peaches."

Limor answered questions from the PowerToFly community about how to deal with unpleasant people in the workplace and here are some of her top tips.

Strategies for dealing with toxic people at work

Dealing with toxic people at work can be stressful and exhausting. While you can't change the behavior of others you can find ways to make working with them easier.

  • Find an internal ally. An ally is someone in the company that you trust and can turn to to discuss the challenges you face. It's important to find someone who you feel comfortable talking to about the toxicity you are dealing with so it doesn't build up inside. You may find that you are not alone and that others may be having the same issues with terrible people or teams.
  • Shift your focus. Pour your energy into what you can control—your work. What we focus on grows, so by shifting your focus away from unpleasant people you may be able to minimize the impact the toxicity has on you. If possible, see if you can get involved on another project or different product to distance yourself from the problem.
  • Get a mentor. An external mentor or coach can bring a different perspective and provide sound advice for dealing with difficult people and situations. Often we feel that our challenges are unique and we are alone in our suffering, however, a mentor can show us that we all face similar obstacles in the workplace at some point in time and by tapping into their wealth of experience they can help come up with creative solutions. If you are looking for a mentor check out the PowerToFly's Mentorship Program.

What to do when your boss is the jerk

Almost everyone has had a bad boss at some time, whether they were difficult and challenging or just plain mean. While the situation may make you feel like the only solution is to quit, there are a few techniques you can try to improve your relationship.

  • Understand their behavior. While trying to understand your boss' unfavorable antics might sound odd, this is a way to figure out how to control what you can—your own actions. Understanding your boss' motivations, values, and triggers allows you to adapt to their style, which may minimize conflict.
  • Who does your boss like? Figure out who gets along with your boss. Why does your boss like them? What are they doing that works? Learn and try to implement a different strategy. This could be a tool that leads to a better working relationship.
  • Talk to them. The best way to understand your boss is to talk to them directly about their working style and their expectations. Some people are micromanagers, some like high-level information, some like low-level information, and some are data-driven. There are so many different kinds of people and by knowing what your boss needs to succeed, you can better support them and often they will appreciate you for that. Talking to them is also an opportunity to shed light on any tension that you may be feeling. See our tips below for navigating difficult conversations.
  • Move to a different team or department. If the relationship cannot be improved, changing managers might be a solution. Talk to your HR department about any internal opportunities.

People don't quit their jobs, they quit their bosses. If all else fails, the best way to deal with a bad boss may be to quit. If you have put in the time and effort to improve your situation and you still find yourself stressed and exhausted it might be time to find a new job. There's only so much you can do. Value your time and mental health and find a workplace that values you.

Confronting coworkers who steal your thunder

Whether it's intentional or an honest mistake, a coworker taking credit for your work is a shocking and infuriating experience. It's time to stand up for yourself. While it may be uncomfortable, it's necessary to ensure your contributions don't go unnoticed.

  • Have a heart to heart. If a coworker or boss has taken credit for your work, it's probably time to have a one-on-one conversation with them. First, make them aware of the situation, as it may have been unintentional. If it was done on purpose, let them know that it is unacceptable to steal your work.
  • Involve a manager. If you are uncomfortable with direct confrontation or if you have had a conversation and they continue to take credit, reach out to your direct manager and HR business partner to inform them of the situation.
  • Document your work. Having evidence is your best defense when sticking up for yourself in this situation. Document your project contributions from the start and make sure your involvement is visible to others. Not only does this help your cause but you will also have advocates who can come to your defense if it happens again.

Tips for navigating difficult conversations

Difficult conversations are well...difficult. The truth is, facing difficult situations and having hard conversations is part of any job. While most people avoid conflict, the most effective way to resolve issues at work is to talk them out. Being assertive and sticking up for yourself takes practice. It isn't easy to confront coworkers, but the more you do it the more confident you will become in advocating for yourself.

  • Assume positive intent. Most people probably aren't trying to sabotage you and you may be dealing with a misunderstanding. Try to see things from the other person's point of view before confronting them.
  • Keep the conversation professional and non-emotional. Tone and choice of words are important when having a difficult conversation. Use "I" statements to express yourself, this can help keep defenses down: I feel like you took credit for my work. I feel disrespected when the team excludes me.
  • Offer a solution. The end goal of a difficult conversation is to come to a solution, not to play the blame game. Give them a chance to explain themselves and ask questions to understand why they did what they did. Try to come to a solution together to avoid a similar situation happening again.

Being respected vs being liked

If you're afraid that hard conversations will make you unlikeable, think again. While confronting others may not come across as nice, worry less about likability and focus more on being respected and appreciated.

  • Focus on the value you bring. By trying to please others and avoid conflict you may find yourself becoming a doormat in toxic environments. Instead of wanting to be liked, focus on how you can bring value to your team and organization. When you're collaborative and bring value to others, they will likely appreciate it.
  • Nip it in the bud. If a coworker or boss is being difficult or crosses a line, talk with them directly. If that doesn't work, go to their superior to ensure this person understands your boundaries.
  • Not everyone likes juicy peaches. You can't control who likes you. Some people will and some people won't. While we all want to be liked, sometimes it's easier to accept that we can't be everyone's cup of tea...and that's ok.

Need more help navigating your unpleasant work situation? Check out PowerToFly's mentorship services here!

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