10 Steps to Improving Your Relationship With a Testy Co-Worker

Aug 20, 2015 | The ONE Thing | 0 comments

Even if you’re the most popular person in the office, it isn’t always easy to get along with everyone at work. In addition to conflicting behavioral styles, other factors come into play in the workplace like stress, competitiveness and work ethic.

In most circumstances you can just brush the problem off and move on, but when you see each other everyday at work that’s not an option. Psychologist and author Paul White has noted that one problematic co-worker can derail the productivity of an entire team, hinder performance, hurt morale and make life miserable in an office. In other words, one bad apple can ruin the bunch.

Young people in the office

Fortunately, we’re all human, and with a little flexing of your social skills you may just be able to win over a testy colleague. You can’t always pick your co-workers, but you can improve your relationship with them using the 10 steps below.


Step #1 – Take Note of Personality Types – Including Your Own

In a previous post we discussed how to pinpoint your own behavioral style or personality type. It’s equally important to understand the personality type of a difficult co-worker. Understanding their personality type will help you figure out what makes them tick and the best way to communicate with them.


Step #2 – Understand and Mitigate the Ego Effect

Things can feel cutthroat at times in the workplace. People are trying to get ahead, prove that they are good at what they do and protect their financial security. It is often an ego-driven environment, especially for people that are competitive by nature. That’s what University of Southern California Marshall School of Business professor Nathanael Fast has discovered in his research. Taking this ego effect into account can shed light on the reasoning behind a co-worker’s actions. It also helps you to understand that the co-worker’s personal hang-ups are the root of the problem and that a little ego stroking can go a long way to improving your relationship.


Step #3 – Reflect on Your Interactions and Issues

Think back to the last time you had a run-in with your toxic co-worker. What was the topic of discussion? What were they doing? Were they in the middle of a big project that was getting close to the deadline? What was it exactly that rubbed you the wrong way? Taking the time to honestly reflect on your interactions helps you identify the real issues you have with the co-worker and what outside forces may be involved that affect their behavior. You also have to be honest about how your own actions could be adding to the problem.


Step #4 – Always Take the High Road

No matter whether the toxic co-worker is a bully or a perfectionist that loves to point out others mistakes, always take the high road. Don’t fall into their trap by reacting negatively to their behavior. Oftentimes this just reinforces their bad behavior and hurts your professional reputation. When faced with an uncomfortable situation meet every negative comment with a positive and kill them with kindness no matter how mean they are.


Step #5 – Get to Know Them Outside of Work

Who we are in the office is rarely who we are in our free time with family and friends. You may be surprised to find that an all-business, annoyingly robotic co-worker is actually a lot of fun outside of work. Or the basket case that’s always dropping the ball is taking care of an ill parent, which leaves them frazzled. Taking the time to get to know your testy co-worker can reveal the reasons behind their reactions.


Step #6 – Find a Common Bond

Another benefit to learning more about your co-worker’s personal life is that it gives you a chance to find a common bond. Sharing a personal interest or life experience helps to connect people on a deeper level. This connection leads to understanding, empathy and mutual respect.


Step #7 – Speak Up Instead of Letting Things Fester

If you internalize your issues you’ll be the one suffering, not the toxic co-worker. The longer you let things fester the more negativity will build up and affect your work. As we pointed out in last week’s post about building bridges instead of burning them, feelings of anger and resentment have a seriously negative impact on performance and productivity.

In the most respectful way possible bring up the issue with your testy co-worker. Do so one-on-one in a neutral, “safe” environment. It’s critical that the conversation is focused on resolution, so steer clear of passing judgment or blame. Keep things factual rather than opinionated, and let the person know that you’ve got their best interest in mind. Showing willingness to make adjustments yourself will go a long way to improving the relationship.


Step #8 – Avoid Workplace Complaining and Cattiness

The last thing you want is to become the difficult co-worker yourself by constantly complaining about others. If you get caught gossiping about your toxic co-worker it will also erode any trust that was built after your one-on-one conversation. Another reason to avoid the office gossip is mob mentality. Sometimes your minor hang-ups with someone else can be amplified if others feel the same way.


Step #9 – Help Foster a Team Environment

When people feel like a part of a whole rather than an individual piece they tend to play a lot nicer. Speak with management about fostering a team environment. Making it clear to everyone that the mentality of success depending on all employees has a way of getting people to work together instead of against each other. This camaraderie is an instant relationship booster that gives you a common goal. Instead of looking at you as competition the toxic co-worker will look at you as a teammate.


Step #10 – Minimize Contact If Needed

Workplace Bullying Institute founder Gary Namie believes that it is very difficult for a true bully to change their ways. If all else fails, practice avoidance. Move your desk or its position, adjust your work schedule, or skirt the break room when they’re eating lunch.


Our relationships grow and develop every day for better or worse. If you’ve tried the steps above without making any headway it’s time to take the matter up the chain of command for the sake of the entire team.