Are you sitting comfortably? Welcome to my series of podcasts that will help you to navigate those inevitable difficult events at work that are part of being a manager.
Today I want to talk about how to cope with colleagues who stress you out.
You’re a very lucky person if you’ve gone through your life without having to deal with a colleague who causes you stress. In this podcast, I want to look at the workplace relationship dynamics that affect interactions and behaviour, and some ways that you can have less stressful interactions with colleagues you don’t get on with.
So what shapes the relationships between colleagues?
Personal experiences, emotions, and personalities: On a personal level, everyone has different levels of ability when it comes to forming and sustaining relationships. And there’s our early experiences too. If you had a sister or brother who would always try to overshadow you growing up, you might experience a kind of ‘sibling rivalry’ with a colleague who is doing a similar job at the same pay grade. Even manager and junior staff relationships can take on a parent/child dynamic.
The personal attributes of employees can also play a big role. How do individuals regulate their emotions? Are certain people quick to anger or are they often rude? Where might this be coming from? Is it fear of losing their job, or are they suffering from stress? This is where an effective manager can step in, steady the ship, and get to the bottom of why an employee might be conducting themselves in a particular way.
Of course, it’s not always easy to solve interpersonal problems, especially when employees use defence mechanisms like denying they have a problem or blaming other people.
The next factor is difficult relationships between managers and employees: This can be a huge problem in organisations. If an employee feels overworked, stressed out, or has personal problems, then they have to deal with a manager who undermines, intimidates, or criticises them, this is a recipe for disaster.
And if we look at the bigger picture, sometimes it’s the state of the overall organisation that causes difficulties between colleagues. Some common examples include employees having excessive workloads, lack of management support, a lack of resources, and a lack of clarity about their role and responsibilities. An organisation that has a culture of blame, bullying, and fear is not a breeding ground for harmonious working relationships.
So we’ve looked at some of the things that can contribute to difficulties between colleagues, now let’s look at how you can have less stressful interactions with people in the workplace.
Firstly, try to be as professional as possible with the people who might be causing you stress. This is not easy but remain confident and don’t get defensive or emotional.
If you feel like the person is trying to provoke you, or is just being difficult, take a moment. Take a deep breath and go for a short walk if possible. This pause will help to lower your stress levels.
It sometimes helps if you can speak to the person directly and address the concerns you have about the nature of your working relationship. Don’t be accusatory or defensive; the other person might not even realise there is a problem. If you find that they aren’t at all receptive to your attempts to engage with them and they become confrontational, remove yourself from the situation and consider speaking to a senior or trusted colleague who might be able to act as mediator. They might also help you to look at the situation objectively, identify ways you might be contributing to the disharmony, and identify actions you might be able to take to improve the relationship with your colleague. At the very least, speaking to someone about the issues you’ve been having will allow you to voice your frustrations and reduce your stress levels.
Finally, let’s look at how you can make your workplace more harmonious, so there’s less chance that colleagues will come into conflict.
Accept that you aren’t always right: Are you accepting of other people’s opinions and ideas, or do you dismiss them, and make judgements based on your opinions rather than what is best for the organisation? When every single person feels as if they can contribute their ideas and opinions, it makes them feel valued and like they belong, and you’ll likely find those workplace relationships are a lot less strained.
Accept that you might be contributing to stressful situations: Is there something you are doing that creates tension with colleagues? Do you have a tendency to be overcritical? Are you demanding too much of others? Looking at your own actions can be tough, but very useful in thinking about how you can remedy disharmony in the workplace.
Give out what you would like to get back: The saying treat others how you would like to be treated applies to the workplace as well as life in general. Smile at someone as you pass them in the corridor, greet people when they arrive in the morning, or ask how they are when you’re both making a coffee. This kind of positive behaviour can become contagious and can really have an effect on the general feel of a workplace.
I hope that you got some good tips from today’s podcast, and I’ll see you next time for the next one in the series which looks at coping with overwhelm.
This is The People Mentor, signing off.