There are many times during our working life when there are the people whom we simply do not get along with at work. It is not always possible to like everyone, however toxic work relationships can really affect your day to day experience and your ability to perform well and succeed. These toxic relationships can completely consume us if allowed to escalate and you may find yourself thinking about that person and analysing the situation over and over again. A lot of this toxicity can be born out of how you feel they have treated you or other colleagues, them being offered more opportunities than you, them being lazy or dealing with situations in a manner that you do not agree with etc. etc. Either way here are a few simple strategies on how to deal with these toxic relationships so that they do not dominate your whole day.
- Sit next to the person in meetings – If you do not get along with someone, your natural instinct is to avoid them. However avoidance never solves anything. If you sit next to someone then it is harder for them to be confrontational sideways. Conflict only escalates when you are facing opposite.
- Don’t focus on the detail – When you focus on the specific actions i.e. ‘Julie just keeps going on and on about the same thing, she really irritates me,’ ‘Carl never does any work, remember in that meeting when he got Joe to agree to do his work for him,’ you will actually just generate more negative feelings for that person. Try to think more about why the person is behaving in a certain way, perhaps Julie is feeling like you are not listening to her, has Carl got some personal issues which has meant that there has been an agreement about a reduced workload? There can be many reasons why people behave in the way they do and you will be one step closer to improving the relationship if you consider the ‘Why?’
- Be brave and have an honest conversation with the person causing you problems? – The hardest thing to do is be brave and have the honest conversation. Often the fear of doing it is worse than actually doing it. In my first ever job, I began to feel like one of my colleagues was being nasty and so I reported it to my boss. They insisted (with their support) that I discuss this with her. I was petrified. Turns out that the person was mortified that they had made me feel that bad as their intentions and my interpretation were polar opposites. They had thought that we were having ‘banter’ because I had retaliated which made them assume I was ok with it. This was a massive lesson about how we can actually give off conflicting messages to what we really feel. It is crucial to ensure that our behaviours do not contradict our feelings.
- Be open to the feedback that you receive about you – Have you considered how your actions could be interpreted differently? Perhaps the conflict you are experiencing is a result of a misinterpretation of your actions. Try a little experiment, ask people what their first impressions of you were. I was told by several people that on first meeting they thought I was hard faced. I had actually considered myself to be a friendly person but found others to be frosty with me. It could be said that their ‘frostiness’ may have been their reaction to my ‘hard-faceness.’ Knowing this has allowed me to change how I approach situations and by making subtle changes people relate to me differently.
- Accept that you have a part to play in this – The hardest part is accepting responsibility that you play a part in the conflict. Are you giving off mixed messages that contradict how you really feel? Are you absolutely certain that your perception of the person’s behaviour is correct? What other interpretation could there be for their behaviour? What evidence backs up your theory? Have you tried to resolve the issues by having the honest conversation? If you are satisfied that you have done all you can and are still unhappy, then proceed down the formal channels with your employer. At least you can say that you have tried everything.
- Do not try and cajole other colleagues – As much as you would like to feel the support of other colleagues, it is important to address any issues of conflict in a professional manner. Trying to gain support from other colleagues could be viewed as intimidation or bullying. Remember to always consider the ‘Why are they behaving this way?’ That person may be experiencing some difficulties which could be further compounded if they felt hostility from other colleagues and you could be the one facing a disciplinary.
Remember that if you always do things in the same way then you will always get the same result, try doing something different and you may get an alternative outcome.