Personal Development

4 Steps to keep calm and address frustrations with coworkers

How do you handle situations when your coworkers frustrate you?

4 Steps to keep calm and address frustrations with coworkers
Editorial Team
February 23, 2015
4 Steps to keep calm and address frustrations with coworkers

There’s something disheartening about working with people you don’t enjoy on a daily basis. How many coworkers did you handpick? Working with others can be difficult, especially if your personalities clash or you aren’t familiar with their work style.

Imagine this: You have been working at a job for several months. You accidentally overhear a co-worker who is friendly towards you making negative comments about you to others. Later, the same co-worker makes it a point to pass by you and give you a big smile.

The following 4 steps can help you handle confusing interactions like this... Be warned: some steps encourage you to be the bigger person and take risks.

#1 Don’t React and Understand Your Emotions

Start with a deep breathing exercise; 3-5 slow, deep breaths might do the trick. Handling passive aggressive behavior from others is easier when practicing emotional intelligence (EI or EQ for emotional quotient).

EI will keep you calm, help you to understand your emotions, and allow you to act professionally during emotional situations. To learn more, attend the class Emotional Intelligence.

Once calm, decide if you want to address the situation or not. There are valid reasons for both. Would you rather ignore the problem and move on, or is the situation worth addressing? If it’s worth addressing, move to step 2.

#2 Address the Problem, Not the Person

When you’ve decided the problem is worth addressing, it’s time to figure out what exactly is going on.

Describe their actions objectively. Pretend you are watching their actions on a movie screen, without emotions or the personal affects.

Person A and person B were talking and I heard person A say, “actual words you heard them say about you.” Then Person A walked by me, we made eye contact, and they gave me a wave and smile.

Focus on the problem this interaction caused, not the person who is seemingly two-faced. Try not to take the situation personally and consider how you want future interactions to go. We take time to examine workplace conflicts like these in Respond to Conflict: Strategies for Improved Communication.

It’s not easy to step back and consider how to improve the situation. If you are interested in repairing the trust and respect you’ve lost in this person, it’s time to move to step 3.

#3 Focus on the Future

After objectively observing the situation, do you want to escalate the issue? Consider the future by asking yourself these questions:

  • How much do I need to work with this person?
  • How influential are they in the workplace?
  • Do I need them to achieve my goals and/or the company’s goals?
  • Going forward, can I work with this person in a professional manner?

Do you need this person? If not, ignore this incident and when you do interact with them be professional. If you do need to respect and trust this person to perform your duties, then it’s time to create a script and move to step 4.

#4 Practice Direct Communication as Opposed to Indirect Communication

It might feel better to talk with another coworker, to find empathy or vent. Doing this could create gossip or a bigger HR issue. This is indirect communication.

Since you’ve decided trusting this person is important to your work, speak directly to the other party. Use “I” statements and be clear about points of agreement, about purpose, or about needs. Words alone do not convey this information, be aware of your body language and tone of voice.

Before you approach this person create a script and practice what you want to say to improve your working relationship or to set a boundary. Practice your script with a friend or someone outside of work, so it feels comfortable. Actually, it probably won’t feel comfortable, but it’s better than winging it!

For more practice on scripting or dealing with conflicts and disagreements at work, sign up for our class Elevating Managerial Effectiveness.

When it comes to uncomfortable work situations it takes effort and bravery to deal with problems in a professional and effective way. By developing the skills to keep calm, describe situations objectively, stay focused on the big picture and address tough confrontations, you can be a leader from your seat in the company and handle conflict confidently and tactfully.