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Have a Strategy for Dealing With Difficult Co-Workers

09/16/2015 05:05 EDT | Updated 09/16/2016 05:12 EDT
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Anyone who works with other people -- and that's the great majority of us -- has had to deal with a difficult co-worker at some point in their career.

Whether it's the office brown-noser; the office gossip; the person who steals your ideas and claims them as their own; or the jealous and competitive colleague who tries to sabotage your success, eventually everyone is going to encounter a co-worker who's problematic.

The most important thing to realize when dealing with people like this is that it's not about you. These are complicated, even troubled individuals who can't help but act out their issues in the workplace.

While the work environment might seem like a big family in that the dynamics can often be similar to parent-child and sibling interactions, it's essential to remember that the people at work are not your family or loved ones.

Your supervisors are not your parents, and your co-workers aren't your siblings or your friends. While some managers and co-workers might be extremely supportive, helpful and even fun to work with, it's not their responsibility to love you or to make you feel good about yourself.

We all need to love and accept ourselves no matter what our boss or co-workers feel, and we shouldn't look to them to boost our self-esteem.

Although we spend most of our waking hours at work and our jobs can provide us with a great deal of satisfaction, pride, meaning and fulfillment, we must be careful not to have our entire self-worth bound up in our job.

When we take responsibility for our sense of self and have other things in our life that bring us fulfillment and self-worth, we're less affected by how others see us or interact with us and it becomes that much easier to contend with the challenging people at work.

While it's up to each one of us to develop our own sense of self and to combat any personal feelings of insecurity or inadequacy, we also must look at anything we're doing that can make us fair game for the bullies, saboteurs or trouble-makers we work with.

We need to make sure that the way we present ourselves in the workplace encourages those around us to treat us with respect, and discourages our supervisors and co-workers from trying to abuse us.

I recommend always having your "game face" on at work: adopting the pleasant persona of someone who is helpful to others, but clearly not a pushover; someone who is cooperative and a team player, but who wouldn't be seen as a doormat or punching bag.

The best kind of workplace strategy is to try to come across as confident, but not arrogant; agreeable but not a people pleaser; and friendly, but not trying too hard to be liked.

You should be polite and amicable with everyone -- even those who you really can't stand -- and this should cultivate the kind of reputation that will encourage people to cooperate with you, rather than trying to sabotage or take advantage of you.

In fact, being "friendly" with the most difficult people in the workplace can have a number of strategic advantages, including getting on the inside track of their plans and schemes and being seen by them as less of a target.

The best strategy for dealing with challenging co-workers is always to be strategic. This means always being aware of the politics and interpersonal intrigues going on under the surface at work, and always presenting yourself in the best possible light to colleagues and superiors alike.

When you're realistic in how you view your workplace, when you let go of trying to make your colleagues your surrogate family and when you choose to always walk into work with your game face on, you'll be much better equipped to deal with whatever the difficult people at work might throw at you.

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