You're Not Married to a Difficult Coworker - So, Sever the Ties!
Sometimes people simply have a tough time figuring out a way to communicate that works for both of the people involved. This problem is especially difficult, if one of the people involved is a racist. Nevertheless, when it comes to work, we’re all required to try to “get along,” as Rodney King so eloquently put it.
Despite Mr. King’s call for unity, coworkers can be like oil and water. Sometimes coworkers will never get along no matter what they try to do to create a peaceful work environment. If you’ve tried different approaches in communicating with a difficult coworker, sought guidance on working with them, and you still can’t foster a positive work relationship, it may be time to request that you not be assigned to work on the same projects as this individual.
Yes, I understand, we’re talking about work. You can’t always and aren’t always in a position to dictate who you work with. But, if a person is causing you low morale, makes you nauseous or gives you a headache when you have to work with them, is causing you to feel anxious or angry, or makes you consider seeking other employment—and management isn’t doing anything that has resolved the tense relationship—you have a right to request a workplace free of this type of stress.
I’ve had to make an “I won’t work with [x]” request to a Site Director at a previous job. Of course, she tried to push me to work with this person, who was blaming me for every problem on her project and was continually reporting me to my supervisor (her lunch buddy) and my managing director (another lunch buddy). But, I was steadfast in my commitment not to work with this individual again.
I presented direct quotes of negative and offensive comments this person made to me and to others about me, I provided specific examples of problems I was blamed for that were due to her mismanagement of a project, I explained that this person never gave me an ounce of criticism, but always showed up at my supervisor’s door to complain about me, and I drilled home the point that any conversations with this woman ended up with her blaming things on miscommunication or a misunderstanding—as if I would pick and choose when I could understand the English language.
By the time this individual showed up for a meeting to discuss my request (she arrived late) the Site Director announced to her that we would not be working together again and that a consultant would be brought in—if needed—to complete the work. This coworker tried to defend herself by stating that I misunderstood her. A moment later she repeated that the problem was simple miscommunication. When she used the “mis” words, the Site Director looked at me and knew I was telling the truth about my work environment. I was off the project immediately.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes there truly is just a simple misunderstanding. Or, perhaps, there may be some cultural differences. But, other times, there is actual malicious intent, racism, elitism, etc. that may be at the core of what has taken place.
You can’t cure the world. You are only responsible for yourself and your actions. Don’t let things build up. It’s up to you to clarify what you will and won’t tolerate—even if that means seeking assistance from Human Resources or senior management within your company.