Calming conflicts with colleagues crucial

Effective communication key to dealing with annoying co-workers


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One of your colleagues continually takes your coffee cup in spite of the fact it has a big capital letter initial for your name.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/04/2016 (2491 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

One of your colleagues continually takes your coffee cup in spite of the fact it has a big capital letter initial for your name.

Another leaves a cup and plate in the sink for someone else to wash.

There are still others at your workplace who can’t seem to remember to close a kitchen drawer.


And of course, there are those who forget their lunch in the fridge and never come to collect it. Ugh, what a smell. Where are their household manners? Where is their consideration for fellow employees? And that’s just the kitchen in your workplace.

What do you do about that work colleague who interrupts your concentration with their radio, in spite of the company policy? Or the individual who frequently stops by your desk, interrupts and doesn’t stop talking? And I’m sure you find it difficult to work with a colleague who’s just plain cranky and continually snipes at you with verbal digs of one kind or another.

On the other hand, there’s always at least some of your colleagues who live by the “work to rule” philosophy, and will refuse to reach out a helping hand.

No matter how harmonious your workplace, there will always be someone or something that annoys you. The result? Increased tension, irritation and escalating anger. Good judgment is at risk. Then, before you know it, you are so upset your own work is not getting done. You are stressed, not sleeping at night and you worry about how to best deal with the situation.

The key to success in managing relationships with difficult colleagues rests with effective communication and the ability to diffuse a situation.

This starts with controlling your own personal reaction and developing a strategy to approach and speak to your colleague.

Avoid the tendency to feel like a victim, take charge and take action.

The following tips will help you make a good start to redirecting the conflict.

Frame the problem Always put the problem in the context of your business rather than focusing on the individual. For instance, if there are too many interruptions, work is not being completed on time and with the quality expected. Many of the irritations relate to an employee being self-centred and not thinking about the impact of their actions on other team members.

Weigh the issue Sometimes, when your irritation and anger have escalated, the entire issue gets blown out of proportion. Be sure to focus on the big picture by asking yourself if you are magnifying things unnecessarily. Look at the issue objectively by thinking about it from someone else’s perspective. Sometimes, you’ll find just thinking this way will take away the problem and it won’t be a big deal after all.

Don’t delay Typically, when issues have reached the crisis stage, emotions are raw, the resentment has grown and the issue is more difficult to resolve. Therefore, don’t let things build up and fester. Deal with them quickly because the longer you leave it, the more entangled the issue will become with other issues making the conflict difficult to clarify and resolve.

Plan a strategy It’s always best if you discuss your frustration with an individual on a one-on-one basis and in a private setting, if possible. If the situation isn’t urgent, plan a time that is best for all concerned. Plan for what and how you will state your issue and anticipate the individual’s reaction to your comments. If you are not confident the individual will respond to a personal approach, then take the issue to your manager and ask for assistance.

Be calm and diplomatic Always keep your voice calm and steady, and choose your words carefully but make sure you are crystal clear in terms of what you would like changed. Hinting at what is bothering you just won’t do. Avoid using the word “you” because the individual will hear this as an accusation. Approach the person in a positive manner, even using humour if it is appropriate but be sure to explain the impact of the behaviour on the organization and your team dynamics. But first and foremost, manage your emotions.

Don’t play psychologist It is not your job to try and figure out the root cause of an individual’s behaviour. Your only job is to try to encourage your colleague to change his/her behaviour as it relates to the workplace. Therefore, at all costs, avoid questions that delve into personal or family dynamics.

Listen, listen, listen It is important that your colleague feels you are listening to what they have to say. Set aside your own emotions and give your full attention. Be careful not to interrupt. Listen for the underlying message and feelings rather than focusing on and trying to correct the facts. Focus on getting the individual to agree there is a problem impacting both you and the business.

Be future focused — Keep in mind you will be working with your colleague in the long-term, so focus on the relationship you want to have in the future once the issue is resolved. This approach allows for more creativity. Also avoid discussing past behaviour; focus on current behaviour and what you desire for the future.

Tag team a solution Whereas each individual has their own personal needs, you’ll find most solutions to a problem will require a compromise. Therefore, ask the colleague for his/her ideas on how to resolve the issue. Brainstorm some ideas, decide on a course of action and come to an agreement.

Stay confidential Take action to deal with your issue directly with the person causing concern rather than complaining loudly to everyone around you. Avoid gossip and negativity as it only makes things worse. Find some personal private space in which to have your discussion and then maintain confidentiality once an agreement has been made. On the other hand, if one of your solutions is to create a team effort and/or meet with management regarding the need for a new policy, then open communication will be necessary.

Disagreement, differences of opinion and conflict between work and personal communication styles are frequent occurrences in the workplace.

The challenge for every team member is to effectively identify the issue of concern in the context of the business and effectively resolve it through good communication and conflict-resolution strategies.

Remember to focus on the future and contribute your every effort to building a harmonious workplace.

Barbara J. Bowes is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She is also an author, professional speaker and workshop leader and executive coach. She can be reached at

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