Difficult Conversations Series Part IV (Coworkers)—Simple Steps to Effectively Conveying & Affirming Your Position Without Fear So You Can Avoid Damage to Your Productivity, Reputation, or Professional Potential

How to Handle Discussions With Problematic Colleagues  

Out of 24 hours in a day, you spend an average of 10 hours working. Be it an office or a field job, you spend most of your day hours with your coworkers. While you might be lucky to have wonderful people surrounding you at work, you might be just as unlucky to have to deal with office people who can be handfuls – be it intentionally or not. For instance, while some coworkers can be intentionally snobbish or passively aggressive, there are the lazy or uncommitted ones who easily and purposefully shift responsibilities to you. In both cases, your colleagues are stressing you out, and it’s only a matter of time before you blow your top, break down, or burn out.

In a professional environment, difficult conversations usually border on performance, ethics, and general attitude. Many uncomfortable situations may involve one person carrying the weight of others. While your associates are supposed to help you, you find them slacking off. As a good collaborator or team leader, you might try to cover their excesses, but the question is – how long are you going to keep covering them up? You’re neither being compensated nor rising any faster through the ranks. In the end, you’re overworked and overstressed, and your coworkers hardly realize the gravity of what they’re doing.

Likewise, what if your work productivity is greatly dampened by a disrespectful teammate with whom you share the department or workspace with? You know your performance is suffering because of contention or hostility that has nothing to do with the tasks at hand.

In each of these cases, you would find yourself in a dilemma concerning whether to approach the erring coworker or keep enduring in silence. You may have no idea how to even broach the topic. It’s a tough one no doubt.

Handling what your colleagues throw at you takes a great deal of patience. But if you don’t put your foot down and talk to them when necessary, you might end up being taken for granted. When difficult situations and topics arise at your workplace, here’s how to set things straight with your colleagues at work:

Schedule a Meeting

While scheduling a meeting might work better for a boss, senior colleague, team leader, or a popular employee in the office, it shouldn’t stop you from scheduling or requesting one when necessary. You don’t have to be the boss to fix an appointment with a colleague. You also set the stage for seriousness, and your coworker will understand there is something important afoot that requires a set, devoted time. Just as you would fix a date with a friend, you can schedule a meeting with your coworker stating that you have some important things to discuss privately.

What this does is that it gives you the advantage to prepare yourself ahead and also forces your associate to take you seriously. If it’s a tough topic, then you’d most likely not be able to resolve it through lunch breaks or side conversations during work hours. Keep in mind that you’re to prepare ahead of the meeting: document your thoughts so that you won’t get flustered when talking. Also, it helps to inform your coworker about the purpose of the meeting, so he/she won’t be caught off guard.

Stick to the Facts

Productivity is a sensitive topic at the workplace. If your coworker is slacking and it’s hurting the office productivity, you have to call him/her to order. This goes beyond mere feelings. If output keeps falling below par, you and your coworker are bound to acquire negative reputations, face disciplinary action, or even lose your jobs. Clearly, it’s not just your coworker that stands to lose here.

In dealing with difficult conversations with your coworker, you must separate emotions from facts. There’s a problem that is threatening the progress of the office, and that’s what should receive premium attention. A team member who’s not putting effort into the team risks jeopardizing the team itself as well as the projects within it. As much as you would and should care about feelings, you must prioritize the facts.

Note that prioritizing facts can be dicey. You might give off the impression that you’re proud and insensitive. To avoid this, you should communicate your concern with a neutral party. This could be a senior colleague or another coworker.

Talk and Ask Questions

As a rule, you must try your best not to flare up during tense conversations. Likewise, you need your colleague to be honest and receptive to you. Hence, what do you do to maintain your cool and trustworthiness? Chip in positive questions that will recognize your coworker’s effort and perspective. Asking for thoughts or opinions on the existing topic helps draw responses.

While your facts restrain your coworker from trying to dodge the conversation, they can push him or her into defensive mode. To avoid futile conversations, ensure you’re courteous and inquisitive. Giving your coworker the chance to explain him/herself makes it easier to get the full picture. Depending on their inputs, you both can agree as to how things should be improved.

Having spoken to your associate, take a step back and watch for positive changes. The proof that your conversation was worth it is the improved results and changes you see. But, don’t rush things. Give your coworker the benefit of doubt, and let him/her grow at a reasonable pace.

If it’s a matter of passive aggression or unruly behavior from a coworker, prepare yourself before approaching him or her. If they have you covering up for their excesses or shortcomings, talk to them first and give it some time. Explain you no longer are willing to have this type of relationship. You have the power to change the dynamic that exists between the two of you. If things don’t change, then you have no choice but to report the situation to a superior to save your own image.

Last Words

It’s easy to be tempted into avoiding difficult conversations at work. After all, no one wakes up in the morning eager to engage in a discussion that you know is going to be uncomfortable. Yes, if things go catastrophically wrong, the dialogue could cost you your relationship with your co-worker, and if things spiral out of control, it could cost you your job. On the other hand, it is your willingness and ability to handle difficult conversations that could be what’s needed to save a plummeting situation, your relationship, and your position.