What to Do When You Don't Click With a Co-Worker: 7 Tips

Robert Half International

Everyone has encountered some version of the challenging colleague. Whether this individual feels compelled to give you unsolicited updates on his or her personal life or is the embodiment of "The Office's" DwightSchrute, it's important to find a way to work together effectively. Following are some tips for doing so:

1. Make sure you have the same goals

If you and a colleague often disagree on a project's direction, make sure you are both on the same page about the assignment's parameters and desired outcome before getting started. The problem may be the result of a simple miscommunication. Begin with a face-to-face meeting so the two of you can hash things out; follow up with a written recap of what you discussed and on what you agreed. This will help keep everyone on track and prevent confusion.

2. Put yourself in the other person's shoes

You may be able to improve your relationship with another staff member by thinking about an issue from his or her perspective. For instance, you may be frustrated by a colleague who responds to your detailed e-mails with single-sentence -- or single-word -- replies. But the person's curt answers may simply be a reflection of her busy day. She may appreciate it if you were brief and to the point in your communication with her.

An overly talkative colleague may distract you with rambling recounts of last night's date. But he may only want the chance to put work aside for a moment. Give him or her a few minutes of your attention, and then politely excuse yourself by mentioning the deadlines you have.

3. Know when someone is fishing for a reaction

You've just lost a major customer through no fault of your own, and in strolls an extremely competitive co-worker who says, "I am so sorry to hear you lost another client." It's clear that he's not sorry in the least.

When a colleague seems intent on pushing your buttons, do your best to avoid taking the bait. Instead, offer a polite, straightforward response: "It's unfortunate, but I have several new leads that I feel confident about." Or simply thank your colleague for his concern. However you respond, stay away from sarcasm. There's nothing more confusing -- or disappointing -- for someone seeking a negative reaction than a genuinely nice response. You might even find he doesn't return to gloat over your misfortune in the future.

4. Don't press for an apology

Few things are more annoying than a colleague who makes a mistake that affects your work but acts as though he or she didn't do anything wrong. Let the person know what went awry, but don't press the issue. As frustrated as you may be, repeatedly pointing out the error of the person's ways may only make the situation worse. And if the issue is serious enough, you can always speak about it with your manager. Instead, focus on what you can do to remedy the problem. Avoid being "that person" yourself by admitting mistakes and taking responsibility when you make an error on the job.

5. Don't take it personally

Remember that a person's behavior may not be a reflection on you. For example, a manager who never greets you in the morning, despite your cheery hellos, may simply not be a morning person. And the co-worker who seems overly territorial about a collaborative project may have previously worked with someone who did not give her credit for her work. If you start with this assumption -- that it's not personal -- you'll be less likely to take offense and react negatively.

6. Be polite

Always be cordial to colleagues and strive to take the high road. Even when someone rubs you the wrong way, remaining professional and tactful will help you work effectively with just about everyone you encounter. You don't have to be best friends with every colleague; you just need to be able to work effectively with them.

7. Examine your own behaviors

Keep in mind that your habits can drive your colleagues just as nuts as theirs drive you. For example, your pages-long e-mails that culminate in one easy-to-answer question may frustrate team members working to meet a tight deadline. Being aware of how your behaviors affect others, and addressing those actions when appropriate, will improve the quality of your interactions. If you've tried to rectify a particular issue, though, and still can't get along with someone, talk to your manager about the situation.

Your ability to get along with all types of personalities not only can make work more enjoyable but may also help your career. Companies seek individuals who can successfully collaborate and build consensus on projects, and being able to forge effective working relationships with even the most difficult colleagues might distinguish you on the job.

Robert Half International is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 360 offices worldwide. For more information about our professional services, please visit www.rhi.com.

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