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Five Strategies for Dealing With Difficult Co-Workers

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We spend so much of our lives at work that getting along with co-workers can be as important, and as tricky, as getting along with our families. There's much at stake, and a ton of ways to cross people, find yourself in disagreements, or simply not see eye to eye with someone. But problems with co-workers can affect your happiness in your job, the quality of your work, and your potential for moving up at the company. All these things are too important to let a difficult working relationship fester.

So here's five strategies you can start using today to help diffuse things with a difficult co-worker.

Hash things out. Many problems often persist because the people involved simply refuse to clear the air. Set a time to take your troublesome co-worker out for coffee, so you can take care of things in a neutral environment. Then speak openly and honestly about your concerns, without heaping the entire helping of blame on your co-worker. She'll probably be happy that you felt strongly enough about her character to bring it to her, and your bosses will notice that you can solve problems without their intervention.

Know when to bring somebody in. If clearing the air doesn't work, it may be time to bring in some reinforcements. Keep yourself out of the line of fire by following your company's grievance policy or asking someone from human resources to moderate for you. Keep everything on the level, and they'll probably be embarrassed that it has gotten so far, and you'll be praised for using the company culture to bring it to resolution.

Slow and steady change. If your co-worker difficulties have been going on for awhile now, it's unrealistic to expect a complete turnaround over night. Change is difficult for people, even if it's in their best interest. If there's an important meeting or event coming up, talk it over with your co-workers in advance, to diffuse things and set some ground rules. If you bring them into your trust, they're more likely to accept the changes and help implement them.

Avoid gossip. Gossip and backtalk in the workplace can undermine a team and destroy relationships. It's also a clear sign of insecurity, and often incompetence. Avoid the pull to gossip about your difficult co-workers, and don't accept it from others. Either try to move the conversation into a more positive direction, or see what you can do to make the gossiper feel more secure. If they don't feel the need to overcome some failing, they won't be as quick to gossip.

Create your own network. If all your attempts to diffuse the uncomfortable working situation have failed, it may be time to look elsewhere. You can create a strong network of support in other areas, and bring their good counsel to bear with your co-workers. Whether family, friends, or co-workers from other departments, it's important that you surround yourself with positive people that reaffirm your stance. And any one of those people may be more than willing to help you hone your communication skills and try your hand with the difficult co-workers again.