Executive Careers Blog

Dealing With Difficult Office Colleagues

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One of the psychic benefits of a job is the camaraderie of working on a team, from a shared mission to the simple day-to-day water cooler interactions.

But sometimes it’s not a bed of roses, and there are people you see and work with everyday, with whom you don’t get along.

The ability to get along with people is an important skill set to cultivate.

Here are some strategies for managing difficult relationships:

With the colleague who often interrupts while you are trying to get your work done, be polite but firm in maintaining your space. As soon as he approaches let him know that you are in the middle of something and ask him to send you an email with a specific request. The key point here is to stop the interruption early and bring it back to a specific action item that you can schedule on your own time. Many offices have an open door policy or open spaces without doors, so even with colleagues who don’t normally interrupt, you may need some alone time. When you absolutely need to focus, try to get to a conference room space, or at least put up a sign. It could be light-hearted like, “Crunching towards a 2p deadline so consider me MIA. Thanks!”

If it’s your manager that is taking your ideas, stand your ground that you want attribution for your stuff but remain positive and assume the best intentions.
Career Expert, The Vault
Caroline Ceniza-Levine

With the colleague who takes credit for your ideas, once you know she has the tendency to do this, you have to be vigilant about protecting your work. You should already be promoting yourself – collecting testimonials from people who have complimented your work, creating and sharing status updates for your manager. So there should be some paper trail already that you are contributing. With ideas, share them first with trusted mentors only and then directly with your manager. If it’s your manager that is taking your ideas, stand your ground that you want attribution for your stuff but remain positive and assume the best intentions (i.e., she might have forgotten the original seed of the idea and would have gladly given you credit.) Let her know that you’re glad she adopted your idea to X and would really appreciate having your contribution documented so you can highlight it at the next review.

With the colleague who just doesn’t seem to like you and you can’t figure out why, just drop it if it’s not otherwise impacting your work. If this is someone who keeps you from doing your job by not sharing data you need or otherwise not delivering, then you need to build a bridge with this person and get along. Let him know that you feel there is a problem and ask directly for help in fixing it. Assume this is fixable, and be positive. But if it’s not impacting you professionally, just drop it. You don’t have to be social with all of your colleagues.

It’s helpful to try and get to the root causes of a problem if there is a specific problem. But sometimes it’s personality clash or you may be misinterpreting or reading too much into another person’s interaction. So focus mainly on things you can control: set boundaries; brand yourself; don’t assume everything is personal.

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Caroline Ceniza-Levine is a career expert, writer, speaker and co-founder of SixFigureStart® (), a career coaching firm comprised of former Fortune 500 recruiters. Caroline is a co-author (along with Donald Trump, Jack Canfield and other leading business authors) of "How the Fierce Handle Fear: Secrets to Succeeding in Challenging Times" from Two Harbors Press, 2010. Formerly in corporate HR and retained search, Caroline has recruited for leading companies in media, financial services, consulting, technology and healthcare.

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