We asked the Thrive community what they need help with right now at work. Read on for a common dilemma and helpful advice from Deloitte’s Human Sustainability Leader, Jen Fisher.
Q: One of my co-workers can be pushy and rude. I try my best to ignore it and take the high road, but it’s starting to affect my mental health at work. I find myself dreading meetings that I know he’ll be in, and I avoid taking part in my office’s social events because I’m nervous he’ll be there. What can I do?
A: First off, I’m so sorry that you’re dealing with this — and that you don’t feel the sense of psychological safety and belonging we all deserve to feel when we walk or log into work every morning. In an ideal world, we could simply ignore the difficult people and stressful events in our lives, but the truth is, this situation isn’t something you can ignore. The people we work with matter. As you know, they affect our work effectiveness, our mood, our stress levels, and our ability to focus.
As Deloitte’s Human Sustainability Leader, I talk a lot about the connection between sustainability and human well-being. When we spend our time with people who are unkind, it takes a toll on our well-being, which then affects how we treat ourselves, the people around us, and the world around us. In my book, Work Better Together, I delve into some of the science behind workplace relationships. There’s an entire body of research about our bonds at work: how they fuel our best ideas, allow us to tap into our creativity, and set the tone for a workplace that fosters belonging and acceptance. A recent Gallup poll showed that people who have meaningful work friendships are more likely to engage customers, come up with new ideas, and enjoy their time at work. A survey from the American Psychological Association found that 73 percent of employees are more productive and motivated when they feel safe and supported by the people they work with. And when we encounter people who do the opposite, it can cause stress and anxiety, and even lead to burnout.
The reality is, even if you decline certain invitations or go camera-off in your meetings, you can’t avoid this person forever — and you shouldn’t. I also want to make it clear that bullying is never acceptable, so if you’re dealing with someone who is truly bullying or making you feel unsafe, it’s important to go to your company’s HR representative and tell them what is going on. No one should have to feel like they should “suck it up” at work if someone is making them feel uncomfortable, and it shouldn’t be your responsibility to deal with individuals who are acting inappropriately at work. If you are dealing with a real workplace bully, go to HR and let them know.
With that said, learning how to deal with difficult people, including teammates, can help us build emotional intelligence and resilience. It may feel uncomfortable, but stepping outside of your comfort zone may be what you need in order to show up in the morning without dreading the day ahead.
Here are five tips to consider:
1. Do a little “homework” before communicating.
When it comes to handling a difficult teammate, preparation is key. If you know you have a meeting with this person tomorrow or that he’ll be in the room you’re about to walk into, try writing down a few potential openers or responses beforehand. Simply having what you want to say in writing before a conversation with your co-worker can help you speak clearly without getting overwhelmed or intimidated.
2. Confront compassionately.
If this co-worker is truly getting in the way of your well-being (and it sounds like they are), consider talking to him about it. I love Arianna Huffington’s concept of Compassionate Directness. Speaking to others with both kindness and directness can be a powerful thing. Try approaching the person in private and being compassionately direct about what you’re feeling. It might sound something like, “I’ve been feeling hurt by your recent comments to me on XYZ,” or “I’ve noticed you were speaking to me aggressively at last week’s team meeting.” Be specific, and try your best to be open to their response. Maybe he truly doesn’t know that his behavior is affecting you, or maybe he has something going on in his personal life that’s causing them to act out.
3. Lean on your more positive teammates.
Keep in mind that this is one person on your team. Maybe you have two or three other co-workers you really enjoy and appreciate. Maybe there are a few people on other teams who seem nice and approachable. Leaning into your positive work relationships right now can be really helpful when it comes to staying positive and resilient. Try making an extra effort to reach out to the people who lift you up instead of the ones who bring you down. You might be surprised how an extra coffee date or a quick catch-up can lift your spirits on a difficult day.
4. Check in with yourself regularly.
Going through this situation at work is incredibly stressful, and you should be proud of yourself for simply acknowledging that there’s a problem and seeking help. Make sure you’re prioritizing self-compassion during this time. You are doing your best, and you need to set boundaries to protect your mental health. Set a reminder to check in with yourself daily, and carve out time for the things that help you reset during harder days. That might be signing off an hour early to play with your kids, unplugging before bed, or inviting a friend to join you on a walk during your lunch break. Give yourself some grace, and make sure you’re being kind to yourself right now.
5. Let your manager know.
In your next 1:1, tell your manager about this person’s behavior and be ready with a couple examples. It may feel like you’re tattling on someone or being a gossip, but being upfront with your manager about how this person is treating you is important. They likely don’t know how you’re feeling, and letting them know can allow them to support you and help you handle the situation without adding to your stress. They might even suggest you meet with HR, or connect you with someone who could help. At the very least, you’ll feel better just by getting this off your chest.