I have a co-worker who seems to have a problem with me. She tells me the work I do is bad, doesn’t include me in conversations, and keeps saying I’m in the wrong field. I’ve told my supervisor, but he just tells me to ignore her. I’m still having a very hard time working with her and her negative attitude. How can I handle this situation? – Roni in San Diego, CA
Learning how to work with diverse individuals and flex your style is a crucial leadership trait. It encompasses resilience, agility, and collaboration, each of which are power skills you want to nurture and expand. Throughout our careers, there will be times we work with people whose approach is very different from our own. Sometimes we don’t mesh well or don’t appear to have any common ground. It’s an opportunity to stretch and further our professional development. Let’s examine how each of these power skills apply to moving through difficult workplace situations.
You’ve probably heard the old adage that not everyone is going to like you. When your environment, or people within your orbit, are critical or negative, it requires conscious effort not to be drug down. Your first action is to avoid the pit of negativity. Don’t project your own fears and insecurities into the situation. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that criticism equates dislike. If you are a “people pleaser,” this is especially true.
Tap into your own value vault of the strengths and skills you bring to the table. Then open yourself to truly listen to the criticism. Ask for more information to help you understand. Use a powerful pause to process the input. If you are unclear, ask your co-worker to tell you more. If bait is cast out, don’t bite. Rather, consider if there are any constructive nuggets you can implement.
Even if a co-worker is negative – maybe downright mean – maintain your own professionalism. You are responsible for your actions, not theirs. If you can flex your style to better align with your co-worker, without compromising your integrity, go ahead and demonstrate your agility. Cut them some slack, and look for the good in the other person. It’s not necessary for you to understand their personality and motivations. What’s important is for you to rise above any quirks with grace.
Effective collaboration stems from respect. It begins with you. Respect your own work, talent, and accomplishments. Recognize that others may have an alternate perspective. A difference of opinion or approach does not mean that one is right and the other wrong. You can disagree with the means your co-worker follows while still respecting the assets they contribute.
Negativity can be contagious. Leverage that knowledge to steer clear of knee-jerk reactions. Be prepared for a crucial conversation to carve a path to the middle, and be aware of your own body language and choose your words carefully. Clear concise communication will significantly help you align with your co-worker, so ask open-ended questions which will not elicit a fight, flight, or freeze response.
Step up with your resilience, agility, and desire to work collaboratively. Take immediate action on valid input to demonstrate your ability to accomplish the team initiatives. When you aim high with balanced and responsive behavior, you are proactively engaged. Do your best to forge a mutually beneficial working environment. Remember, you own and control your own behavior. When you exhibit your capacity to lead, others will notice and follow.
For more information, check out Chapter 9, “Dealing with Difficult People,” in our book, Practical Wisdoms @ Work.
Lynn Whitbeck is the co-founder and President of Petite2Queen. She is focused on identifying and evaluating opportunities for women at work, helping them define their personal roadmap. She dedicates herself to delivering tools and insights, embracing visualization of the big picture, and identifying and implementing the minutiae of detail. Lynn aims to share lessons learned along her journey and enable positive uplift for women.