We’ve all been there: Your supervisor starts delegating responsibilities on a huge team project and all of a sudden, boom! Guess who you’re working with?
That’s right: your least favorite coworker.
Maybe they’re verbally abusive, or lazy, or love to shoot down everyone else’s ideas without providing any of their own. Maybe they’re a corporate wallflower, content to stand by and do nothing when action is required. Or maybe they’re a passive-aggressive champion, subverting other people for their own enjoyment.
Dealing with toxic coworkers can be extremely stressful, as author Alan Cavaiola writes in “Toxic Coworkers: How to Deal with Dysfunctional People on the Job.”
“These problems caused by difficult people at work can create enormous disturbances and disruptions in our lives. Some are really amazing in their cruelty, self-centeredness and lack of compassion,” Cavaiola writes.
Here’s how to work with a challenging coworker without pulling your hair out.
When you make assumptions — you make an … well, you know the old saying. But when it comes to thinking you know what your co-worker means by taking some action you find offensive, try not to jump to too many conclusions without trying to figure out the reasoning behind it first.
Conflict consultant Kathleen Bartle says asking questions is the answer — to prevent your own “assumptions and judgement” from clouding your perspective.
“You want to find out, ‘Hey, yesterday when we were in that meeting together, and you went off on this tangent over here about these six things, are these six things important to you, or were you imagining that that might be an addition, or is it something I left out?'” she tells Fast Company “Then you find out what’s important, instead of making assumptions about what’s going on.”
Take a deep breath
You know that feeling when your toxic coworker is rambling a million miles a minute, and it’s the last thing you want to hear?
It’s important to take a deep breath in these moments to prevent yourself from flying off the handle.
Fear and stress trigger a fight or flight response, which sends you into a state of hyper-reaction and clouds the calm, rational side of your thinking brain.
If you really want to get on the same page with a frustrating coworker, the best thing to do is to try to get in touch with your own stress in order to see the situation more clearly.
Tell them what’s bothering you
Sometimes you have to take the person aside and let them know how you feel — just be sure to do it both respectfully and strategically.
Consider approaching your coworker and letting them know how you’re feeling — in private, preferably.
Use messages that emphasize your personal experience, and be sure to focus on “I” statements, rather than “you” statements, which can come off as attacking.
Leadership guru Tony Robbins says “I” statements “force us to take responsibility for what we are thinking and feeling, and prevents us from blaming our partners. With ‘I-statements,’ we can still be assertive, but find a less hostile, more compassionate way to communicate.”
“You” statements, on the other hand, “imply that the listener is responsible for something. They show no ownership of emotions, but rather, blame, accuse and assume the receiver. This type of statement is more likely to make your partner feel defensive and resentful, and he or she will be less likely to want to make peace,” Robbins says.
Try not to lose your cool
Last, but not least, don’t risk it all by blowing up at the person verbally— this can come off as unprofessional when you’re at work. Also, try not to take what they’re saying personally if you get into an argument.
While this is probably what you want to do every time they fork over a snide comment, if you escalate the situation and things get out of hand, it will unfortunately look like you’re most at fault.