Whether it's a co-worker who bulldozes us during staff meetings and shoots down every new idea, or several colleagues who make up a clique outsiders just can't break into, we've all had to work with people we simply don't like. They can turn a job you otherwise enjoy into your own daily personal hell.
Some perspective is in order. While your co-worker's behavior may feel like a personal affront you did nothing to deserve, he or she may feel affronted, too, says Andy Selig, ScD, a management and organizational psychologist who often mediates tense workplace relations. "Most of the time, all the protagonists involved feel like victims," he says.
Sometimes I think my memory is actually too good. Like when I realize I still know the lyrics to nearly every song released in the '80s. Or that I can recite, verbatim, lines from at least half a dozen episodes of Seinfeld and Sex and the City. But then I'll go to transfer a load of laundry into the dryer and discover that it's already dry; seems I forgot to ever turn on the washer. Or I'll forget my neighbor's name — again. Could it be that sitcom dialogue and song lyrics are taking...
So before moving forward, take a step back. "First look at yourself. Then look at others," Selig says. "We can't usually change other people, but we can change ourselves."
Ask yourself some questions -- they might reveal behaviors you can change to ease the tension. First, did you move too fast? This applies especially if you're new to a job. Maybe you're a real go-getter, and you wanted to hit the ground running -- not always the best strategy. "Coming into a new organization is like a step-parent coming into a family. Come in slow. Don't start parenting right away. We have to earn trust so people value what we have to say," Selig says.
Give Credit Where Credit is Due
Also consider whether your ideas sound like criticism. Your job may, in fact, be to innovate, but new approaches must follow ample recognition of the work your colleagues have already done. "One of my clients had great ideas but didn't give any recognition that there was a lot of good stuff going on there before she came in. Her co-workers felt criticized and undervalued, and they reacted to it," Selig says.
Do you and your co-workers see your role the same way? While you're just doing your job, if others don't know what that job is, they may feel you're stepping on their toes. "A lot of times these conflicts are a result of role clashes more than interpersonal differences," Selig says.