The workplace presents many a challenge. While deadlines and daily assignments themselves can be stressful, sometimes it's actually the context that makes work harder. An overwhelming majority, 85% of workers say they experience some degree of conflict at work, according to a 2008 survey of 5,000 full-time employees in nine countries by organizational psychology company CPP, Inc.
Conflict at work can look a lot of different ways, but when it comes to conflict with colleagues, interpersonal and workflow problems often arise. While these can vary and be very nuanced, "I think work styles and communication styles are probably at the root of most folks' tension in working together," says Carolyn Kleiman, career expert at ResumeBuilder.com.
Depending on the situation, here are a few ways experts recommend dealing with a difficult co-worker.
Before making any moves with your colleague, try to take a step back and figure out what the problem is, specifically.
"Is it that we are constantly working on projects together and they will wait to the last minute and I like to get things done well in advance?" says Kleiman. Do they not respond to your emails or Slack messages? Do they shoot down your ideas in meetings?
Depending on what the problem is or problems are, if you have a clear understanding of exactly what's happening, it'll be easier to tackle.
Once you've gotten clarity on the problem at hand, you can decide if it's worth approaching them about it. If you find the problem has more to do with their personality, which likely won't change, "you just want to try to limit your interactions," says Kleiman. "Keep things brief, keep things surface, keep things professional."
But if it's a matter of how you work together, there are ways to bring up the problem that will make it more palatable and easier to solve.
Start by showing appreciation for them by saying something like, "I've always seen you as a dependable colleague," says Gorick Ng, Harvard career adviser and author of "The Unspoken Rules." That will help make it clear you're not attacking them as a person, just bringing up a workplace challenge.
Then, when you want to address a specific problem in collaborating, for example, "make it more about your work style," says Kleiman, and present the challenge as a problem to be solved together.
Say, for example, "I've noticed that you tend to do things more last minute to get your work done," says Kleiman. "That makes me really anxious. And I know that I like to get things done ahead of time and you might feel anxious about that. So how do you think we can manage that?"
If you present it as a challenge to be tackled together, these conversations can come off as simply a way to ensure the work is getting done smoothly as opposed to a specific issue you're encountering with that person.
If the problem persists, and it's affecting your ability to do your work even after you've spoken to them, a final resort could be going to your boss.
Say something like, "I've been trying to do this piece of work but, unfortunately, I've been coming across a consistent roadblock in the form of this. Is it something that you've experienced before? How do you suggest [I] navigate it?" says Ng.
Though escalating the problem is always an option, "ideally, you're solving it informally before," Ng.