Years ago the owner of a company I worked with stopped his car, turned around, and headed back home on a Monday Morning. On the drive back home he thought about why he didn’t want to go to work. It was because of one negative employee. Even he, the owner, experienced workplace conflict. He had tried everything he knew to help and change this toxic employee to no avail. He asked himself if he had been fair, if he’d done all he could do, and the answer was yes he had. So, he turned back around, went to the office, and terminated the employee.

But What If You’re not the Boss?

The story above is an extreme case. No one wants conflict to end with someone losing their job. And you may not be in the position to fire a difficult co-worker. So, what do you do?

Steps to Handling Difficult Co-workers

Let me begin by saying the first step is to go to your human resources department, or your direct supervisor to make them aware of the situation and ask for their advice.

Don’t Get Caught up in it

It’s easy to retaliate with a difficult teammate, especially if you feel personally attacked. The key is to not take it personally. It’s not about you. It’s about the toxic employee and his or her actions. If you take it personally by becoming angry, upset, or vindictive, it will escalate the situation. Stay calm. Don’t get pulled in.

Stop Avoiding Conflict

Conflict aversion is rampant in business. Nobody wants confrontation. For many just the thought sends a chill of fear down their spine. The key is to stop thinking of it as confrontation and begin thinking of it as help. Here are five ways to change confronting a teammate to helping them.

  • Ask permission. Before offering your advice, ask if it’s OK. Explain you’d like to discuss something that could help you both. The Pinch Theory of Conflict Management
  • Use the sandwich method. Begin the conversation by stating something you appreciate about the other person. It needs to be something you truly like about them so take a moment to consider this before you start. How to Critique without Creating Animosity.
  • Be straight forward. Don’t beat around the bush. Tell it like you see it, just the facts, please.
  • Don’t be emotional. This isn’t the place for anger, defensiveness, or fear. Stay calm and leave your emotions out of the equation.
  • Share the benefits. End the talk by discussing how change can benefit both of you.

Don’t be a Gossip

Let’s face it you put any group of three or more people together,  and there’s going to be gossip. Understanding the difference between garden variety and destructive gossip is what’s important. When is gossip destructive? When it:

  • Adversely affects work
  • Damages co-workers
  • Affects morale
  • Is based on lies and misinformation
  • Becomes a personal attack
  • Breaks company policies
  • Is bullying

Recognize positive behavior

One of the best ways to influence anyone is to recognize the good things they do. Rather than attack their pitfalls begin supporting their good choices. You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Make it a team thing

Create a team culture where it’s okay to talk about things, good and bad. Instead of hiding from unpleasant conversations, applaud each other for sharing. No one is perfect. There will always be some conflict in any group. So, why not acknowledge it and work towards improvement? The point is to not only make it acceptable to talk about it but to make it expected. Sharing how to help each other should be applauded. It should be worthy of praise.