How to Handle Someone Who Rubs You the Wrong Way at Work

Does your job require teamwork? If so, there’s a pretty good chance that, at some point, you’re going to meet someone who rubs you the wrong way. It’s not a disaster, and it might not even be anyone’s fault. The two of you just can’t agree. Honestly, this person may irritate you for reasons you can’t even explain.

The situation becomes more complicated if the difficult person is a peer intent on antagonizing you and only you. When you have authority or are in a position of leadership, you can either limit your time together or make an executive decision that ends an uncomfortable situation. If not, you need to adjust and figure out a realistic way to address the underlying issue.

Seven Tips to Deal with Difficult People

  1. First, examine your reactions. It’s never a bad idea to consider your own behavior. Are you perceiving things clearly? Is there anything you can do differently to ease the tension?
  2. Don’t fall into an ongoing battle of passive aggression. Be explicitly clear that you are uncomfortable or unhappy and would like to address the problem that exists between you. I recently put this to practice with someone I was butting heads with. We agreed on common objectives and established clear ownership of the various tasks we shared, and it made a big difference.
  3. If someone is targeting you, engage with them privately and honestly. Give them a voice. It’s possible this person is acting out because they don’t feel heard. Perhaps they believe you’ve slighted them in some way when it’s only a misunderstanding.
  4. Don’t get defensive. As soon as you stop listening and start defending yourself, they’ll lose interest and you’ll solve nothing.
  5. Whatever you do, don’t fall into a tit-for-tat situation. If this person is digging at you, don’t entertain the idea of responding in kind. A game of negativity ping-pong only makes things worse.
  6. Don’t ever give someone power over you. You have complete authority over your actions and emotions, which is an empowering realization. Don’t fall into the trap where you start blaming someone else for your inappropriate response or decline in performance.
  7. Minimize the brain’s threat responses and maximize its reward responses. Based on the SCARF Model, developed by Director of the NeuroLeadership Institute, David Rock, there are five key “domains” that influence our emotional and behavioral reaction to situations at work (status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness). For example, micromanaging is often a threat to autonomy, while trust is a reward.

At the end of the day, only you know your limits. You should attempt to solve the problem without bringing management into it, but we all have boundaries and there’s no shame in that. If you feel personally attacked or persistently uncomfortable, you might consider looping in your team leader.

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