How to Handle Difficult Coworkers at Work

It’s hard to be in an environment where everyone is out for themselves. When you are surrounded by people who are driven by their own comfort, security, or promotion, you don’t feel safe. You feel like you can’t trust anybody. And more often than not, you close yourself up so you feel protected. Forget about thriving in the workplace. Under these conditions, work becomes a daily struggle for survival. So what do you do when you feel like a sheep surrounded by wolves?

Honestly, I don’t have any simple answers or quick fixes to this question. But I do have a story and two suggestions. In my role before coming to Workmatters, I was leading change in an organization. I remember the last words said to me by a board member cycling off. He said, “The District Supervisor snuck you in behind our backs and both of you are shoving a vision down our throats nobody wants!” You can imagine the hurt, betrayal, and rage swelling inside me at that moment.

I left the meeting and immediately called the District Supervisor. I expected him to share in my feelings of rage and betrayal. But I was surprised by his response. He said that I should try to stay curious. I should delay judgment about this board member as long as I possibly could. I should delay my reaction and just stay curious.

So I did. I put myself in his shoes. I tried to imagine the fear and hurt that had to have driven his reaction towards me — how hard the changes had to be on him and his team. That helped me soften towards him … a little. Then I watched him. I noticed that what he did to me, he did far worse to himself. The simple truth I learned is that hurting people hurt people.

Then a surprising thing happened in me. My heart moved from bitterness and anger to sympathy and pity. Those feelings changed how I treated him. And eventually, our relationship changed for the better. Now I’m not saying that by staying curious your relationships with your coworkers will always be transformed. But it will give you inner freedom from the external circumstances. It will also enable some form of healthy relationships with unhealthy people. So my first suggestion is: stay curious.

Another suggestion is this: be still. In Psalm 46, the writer, David, gives a vision of God’s people –surrounded by disaster and chaos, and acting fearlessly and being completely at peace. This verse gave me the courage to be curious, even in the midst of conflict. During that season, God extended an invitation to me  to, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). These words reassure us that He’ll take care of the rest. So everyday for weeks I would say the following prayer:

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am.

Be still and know.

Be still.

Be.

These words helped calm the raging waters in my heart. They told me that I was safe and taken care of, even when circumstances suggested otherwise. They helped take the focus off of myself and enabled me to be curious about those around me. Staying curious makes healthy relationships possible, even with unhealthy people.

Give it a shot this week and notice the difference – stay curious and be still.

Categories: Blog, Listening, Love, Prayer
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  • Raquel

    Thank you Mike! I really needed this today. I am struggling to not get discouraged. I work at a Christian company where I am constantly battling through the perspective that I am “new” at my job. I have been here for over a year and I feel like I am trying to survive. Some don’t trust the work I do or what I say so I am treated in a condescending manner when all I want is to be a good coworker and do my best.

    It is hard not to be bitter, but I will try to be curious and put myself in others shoes.

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