Work is stressful. All day you deal with deadlines, demands, and distractions. Work is easier and happier when you have pleasant people around you who are there to help you and work with you. That doesn’t always happen though. Often there is that one person who is on a mission to make your life miserable.
If you have a co-worker like this, you know how they can suck every ounce of happiness out of your life. It’s a ripple effect that seeps into other aspects of your life: whomever you go home to, your friends, your family, even the lady standing behind you in the grocery store checkout lane. It’s pure emotional torture.
It seems like I’ve had a difficult co-worker at every job I’ve had. I was beginning to wonder if there was some mystical message that the Universe was trying to teach me. I thought I was easy-going, upbeat, fun-loving, and full of personality. So why didn’t these irritating antagonists appreciate me? Why were these people haunting me?
The last one was the worst. I was going through a divorce and had just become a single parent. I had recently changed career paths venturing into foreign territory. I was really scared. My new co-worker (who was also my manager) seemed so nice when she interviewed me for the job. She must have liked me because I did get the job. But then, it happened. Like a snake shedding its skin, each day as we sat there, desks almost touching each other, she became scarier as layers of her “niceness” faded, and her fangs began to show.
Every day was another attack at my incompetence. For months, this continued until I changed my thinking. One day I realized this was all about me. This miserable co-worker was testing my character strength. I had to step back from the situation and take an inventory. I asked myself, “How much can I handle? Is this about them or me? Am I looking in the mirror? Do I see something I don’t like about myself in them? Am I jealous of something they have, like a higher position, a better relationship with the boss, or freedom to do whatever they want? That’s when I learned that this impossible, nasty, bully was there to teach me about myself.
Here is what I discovered.
Everyone is carrying their own silent sack of troubles with them every day. Everybody worries, and everybody has problems. When you keep this in proper perspective, you realize your co-worker’s nasty comments have nothing to do with you at all.
Yes, it’s totally phony at first, but after a while, it feels great. Shower them with kindness. It’s amazing how you can turn grumpy people around when you do. You become the conqueror of the situation. You can mold people by the way you interact with them. Every morning, I went to the coffee shop in our building. The woman who ran the shop was grumpy, unpleasant, and never smiled. Her nastiness was contagious. When I returned to my office, I realized I was in a bad mood. I made a decision to stop letting her negativity ruin my morning. From then on, I went to the coffee shop with a wide smile on my face and greeted her with an overly dramatic, “Good morning! How are you today?” The change didn’t occur immediately, but slowly, day after day, her frown softened and she smiled. All she needed was a little kindness. Most people probably responded to her negativity in kind, but if you don’t get hooked into it, you will feel better and so will the other person.
Find your inner strength. You might have to search deep inside yourself, but you’re stronger than you realize. Instead of giving in to your impulsive reactions without thinking, try not reacting. Often we make situations worse than they are. Give your reaction time to settle. Time changes your perspective, if you let it. Be smarter. Rise above the conflict. Slow down.
Often the traits that irritate us the most in others are the traits we don’t like in ourselves. Are you brave enough to ask yourself, “Am I looking in the mirror?” At first, you won’t recognize yourself, but if you can step back and look at what happened, you might recognize yourself. It’s difficult to admit, but it’s true.
Never let another person’s bad behavior bring out your (even) worse behavior. Once the negativity of others triggers us, we can become as monstrous as they are. Maintain your dignity when others lose theirs.
If you can find your courage and your strength – go for coffee and talk it out. Simply express your desire to improve your relationship. Ask for advice. Be humble, not egotistic. I once had a co-worker who gave me a dirty look whenever I walked by her desk. It didn’t take long before I was hooked and started giving her the same looks she gave me. For months, we’d walk by each other and roll our eyes. Until, one day, I asked another girl I worked with if she knew why I was getting dirty looks. Her answer surprised me: “She thinks that you don’t like her.” I had no reason to dislike her. I had no negative feelings for her (until those looks started). I went over to her, told her that I’d like to move forward and be friendly again. It worked.
7. Know when to walk away.
Abuse is never acceptable. Just like any bad relationship, you have to know when it’s time to walk away with dignity. You might have to quit. If the situation is absolutely unbearable or abusive, it will probably affect your emotional and physical health. Find another job, start that consulting business you’ve been dreaming about, or follow your bliss. This unlikable co-worker might be a blessing in disguise. They might be the messenger forcing you to make the change you’ve been dreaming about. Go for it. Seize the day!