Is a difficult colleague ruining your work life? It might be time to have a word with them, but be professional in the way you communicate your message.
Is a difficult colleague ruining your work life? It might be time to have a word with them, but be professional in the way you communicate your message.

How you should really handle a bad co-worker

A BAD co-worker can make your life a misery - but apparently, there are ways of wrangling even the toughest office bully.

According to people management specialist Karen Gately, director and founder of human resources firm Ryan Gately, there are many different personality types that can make the daily grind almost unbearable.

But she said many of the same tricks could be used to manage most difficult people, from whingers and lazy workers to classic bullies.

"It depends on why they're difficult - it could be anything from people who are hypersensitive, bullies, people who constantly want to throw their colleagues under the bus and lay blame and not take ownership - but while difficult colleagues are many and varied, but some of the same principles apply," Ms Gately said.

"Remember you can only control yourself, not other people - you can influence others, but at the end of the day you are ultimately responsible for how you think and feel.

"Tip number one is to choose your attitude and pick your battles. If you find yourself being drained by everything this person does and says, check yourself and see if you are allowing your own head to be done in by them."

Ms Gately's next tip is a little tougher - according to her, a confrontation is unavoidable.

"You need to have the ability to have an honest, tough conversation," she said.

"You don't want to go into war and go toe-to-toe but it is important to have the courage and confidence to let people know when they are behaving in ways that have an adverse impact on us, and to let people know that what they are doing is undermining your ability to have a healthy relationship with them.

"Remember that two wrongs don't make a right - don't match sh*tty behaviour with sh*tty behaviour.

"Be clearly professional in the way you communicate and as emotionally intelligent as you can. If you're furious, take a few deep breaths and give yourself some time before you deal with it."

HR expert Karen Gately says bad behaviour should always be called out. Picture: Supplied
HR expert Karen Gately says bad behaviour should always be called out. Picture: Supplied

But Ms Gately said the number one key to dealing with a difficult person was to calmly help them understand how their behaviour was affecting your life - and to describe exactly what you'd like to change in order to get a better outcome for the both of you.

"There's no value in pointing the finger of blame and attacking people," she said.

"For example, if you say, 'You're behaving badly and it's stopping us from being able to work together', that's a very blaming, accusing thing to say.

"Instead, say, 'I think it's really important we have a great working relationship, but here's something that's making that difficult'. It's about being honest about how things have to change.

"It's wise to talk about natural consequences as opposed to imposed consequences. An imposed consequence is something like, 'If you don't stop I'm never talking to you again', but a natural consequence would be, 'If we don't find a way to communicate more effectively, the reality is we're not going to get the job done'."

Ms Gately said if you were dealing with a classic bully, some sort of confrontation was still necessary.

She suggested calling out their bad behaviour first before taking the issue further, to a manager or HR if needed.

But she warned that some bullies were unlikely to change - and sometimes, it might be best to walk away.

"The harsh reality is not all employers are as proactive and responsible in driving bullying out of the workplace, so if you're not getting a reasonable response, and they're not taking it seriously, you can go the Fair Work Commission," she said.

"But the simple reality is if it doesn't look like it's going to change, you might need to get another job in another environment that's safe and that deserves you."

Ms Gately said most "reasonable human beings" responded positively to honest, respectful, compassionate feedback, even if that feedback initially upset them.

But she said the more aggressive the behaviour, the tougher you may have to be in response.

"If someone is being aggressive you might have to be a bit firmer, hold your ground and say, 'I appreciate you're upset but I'd also appreciate it if you didn't speak to me so aggressively'. Speak politely but firmly to let them know you won't be their punching bag," Ms Gately said.

"I meet a lot of unconscious bullies who don't mean to be impacting others, and for those people it helps a lot when they suddenly get a wake up call."

Ms Gately said negative behaviour should be held up to the "reasonable person" test - if a reasonable person would be upset by the behaviour, then it needs to stop.