Grown Up Problems: Coworker Troubles

I’ve been incredibly blessed in my life to have work that satisfies me intellectually and socially, that allows me to feel I have purpose, and that pays a handsome salary.

Oh wait, that’s me, that’s someone I read about online while I was bored at work.

While I wish every job on the planet offered such delightful trimmings and everyone was so happy that the world continuously buzzed with sheer joy, the reality is that we all have to deal with that “it’s a job” job for at least a little while. Bad pay, no benefits, and questionable coworkers.

When I start a new job, I imagine my coworkers and I having coffee, sending each other adorable animal videos, frolicking in a field, and having important life discussions on park benches while the world spins around us. Call it unrealistic, but…well you should call it that because that’s exactly what it is.

Truth is, I’ve made some great work friends. I’ve also had some slimy, manipulative, and just not very nice work associates. So, dear friends, I’ve compiled a list of my greatest strategies for dealing with those tricky little poop monsters.

Don’t Sink to Their Level

Did anyone get through childhood without hearing this at least once? Probably not. Is it still 100% true? Absolutely. Spoiler Alert: they were right about not touching the stove too.

If you engage someone who is behaving badly with the same bad behavior, you will find yourself slipping into that dark hole faster that you can say “Ohmygodwhat? I’m just being honest.”

Example: I once worked with a girl who had countless grievances against everyone, but gave only a warm smile to myself and all my coworkers. We eventually found out that she was going behind our backs and reporting every last mistake of ours to our manager, voicing her outrage as though we were purposely ruining everything. I wish I could say I took the high road, but alas I rode the gossip train to the very last station, which turned out to be the most smiley, falsely friendly, terrifying work environment imaginable.

Another coworker, however, spoke to her directly. Without accusation, she simply said:
“Hey, the other day you did this thing that made my work a little bit inconvenient, could you do it this way instead? Also, if I’m ever doing anything that inconveniences you, I would really appreciate you talking to be about it, I want this to be a fun workplace for everyone.”

Easy* as that. (Ok, it’s not easy but it is worth it)

Kill ‘em with Kindness, Not Fake-ness

A smile can light up a room, but it can also inefficiently paint over disdain or rage, leaving behind a jarring disaster (see: clowns). Be kind, be cordial, and genuine. If you have a problem with your worker, mention it, breathe and then carry on as a cool-headed human being. While a screaming match won’t do you any good, neither will a big, happy wave goodbye that morphs into the finger when they turn to walk away.

Example: A coworker of mine adopted a habit of saying unkind things in a kind tone. These were the kind of remarks that started out so promising and then slapped you in the face and left you wondering what happened.

“Wow, great job getting that sale, your numbers have been down this month so hopefully it’s turning around for you”
“I love your little skirt, I would never wear something so revealing to work”

Of course I wanted to say, “yeah? well, your skirt is a skirt! Jerk!” because I’m an articulate human. But what got better results was simply finding something about her in that moment that I did admire and replying with a real compliment.

“I can’t believe you walked here, it’s so hot outside! You’re really sweaty,”
“Yeah, it’s warm out there. I really like your top though, what a great way to keep cool and look professional,”
It helps a lot of you really mean it and it refocuses your mind on something positive about that person. Believe it or not you can always find something about the people you don’t particularly like knocking around in your brain.
Eventually she laid off me because it’s really hard to put down someone who is always building you up.
Bring in the Big Leagues 
Now I know I already said you shouldn’t tattle, but there is a big difference between running to the boss to tattle and discussing an incident with your supervisor. It is always acceptable to go to your boss with a problem if you’ve discussed it with the person a couple of times and seen no change. It is also ok to talk to your boss if you:
– feel unsafe in the workplace due to a coworker
– are being harassed in any manner
– have really thought it through and found that you are unable to talk to the person about their behavior and it would sound better coming from a supervisor
That’s all the advice I’ve got for now, but from one working girl to all the others out there I can tell you: hang in there. Bad coworkers come and go, but being a good one reaps benefits that can last a lifetime.
Best of Luck!

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