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5 Effective Ways to Dealing with a Hostile Co-Worker

by Deana Zafir

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Work is stressful enough without having to deal with a hostile colleague. Add one to the mix and your work life can be miserable. But there are ways to deal with a hostile co-worker before going to human resources.

Toxic behaviour within the workplace can spread like viruses. Whilst the behaviour or rather problem might start with one person. Over time, people who work around the disruptive individual and their compromising behaviour might start to affect the people around them. 


What is Disruptive Workplace Behaviour? 



Any on-going behaviour that bothers and upsets an employee’s day to day tasks can be classified as disruptive workplace behaviour. The difference between disruptive and non-disruptive workplace behaviour is that - if no one tackles disruptive workplace behaviour, it often continues to escalate.

Additionally, employees who engage in upsetting behaviour will often find ways to justify their bad behaviour. Examples of disruptive workplace behaviour include poor relationships, gossip, and even chronic tardiness. Here are 5 ways you can deal with a hostile co-worker: 

 

1. Investigate the Cause 



Before you jump the gun and completely shift the blame to the other party, ask yourself if you’re doing anything to exacerbate the situation.

For instance, if you come from a culture where you’re used to speaking your mind, you might need to rein some of your opinions. Or risk straining some relationships. Remember, you just need to give yourself a bit of time to adjust to a new or different working culture.

In addition, change is something that’s hard for many people. It can be stressful and overwhelming for some. Your new colleagues might not be sure how to react when a new person joins the company or even their already established clique.  

 

2. Remain Civil but Firm



Working with uncooperative and hostile colleagues can test your patience. But the worst thing you can do is retaliate with additional hostile behaviour. This might escalate the tension that you have with the person and lead to workplace harassment.

Keep in mind that since you still have to work with this person, it’s important to remain civil but firm. What you can do is try to be civil and speak in a composed, polite tone.

Pro-Tip: Being civil does not mean that you can’t be firm. Rather than phrasing work-related requests as a question. It’s best to try and use non-negotiable statements instead. For instance, instead of, “Can you do this….”. You should try and rephrase the request as, “My report is due by the end of the month, so it’d be much appreciated if you could get this back to me by the end of the day”. 


3. De-escalate Through Team Bonding Activities

Sometimes, minor misunderstandings can be resolved by encouraging displeased parties to get to know and work with each other. Team building is an essential tool used to unite co-workers together. It is through these team bonding activities that employees can work together to solve and mediate their weaknesses and strengths. 

If you’re someone who sighs at the words “team bonding”. Believe it or not, there are team building activities that can be fun. These activities can range from simple games to company parties.

At BGC, we regularly engage in team bonding activities. Our latest activity was a short competition inspired by “The Amazing Race”. Each team comprised of 7 to 8 people from different departments, some of whom have never spoken to each other before. The key to encouraging good team bonding activities or competitions is to have a motivating incentive. Examples can range from food vouchers for the team to cinema tickets.


4. Move On



You can’t please everyone. There comes a point in time when you have to admit that the situation cannot be resolved. If the hostile colleague you’re dealing with is in the same department as you, consider switching departments. Alternatively, you can ask your HR department if it’s possible to place you at a distance.

In addition, you could also try and move on emotionally. Try and practice emotional detachment. You can do this by creating a mental game for yourself. Observe your colleague like you would an animal in the wild. That way, you can tune them and their actions out. 


5. Get HR to Jump In 

If all else fails, you might need professional help. At times like this, it’s best to get a professional to help mediate any potential discourse. Follow the steps outlined below:
 

  • Take Notes: Just like in court, the odds will be in your favor if you document the details of the incident. Remember to include specific details such as the date and timing of the hostile incidents that happened.
     

  • Try to Fix the Problem: Reporting your colleague to the HR should always be your last line of defense. You should always try to de-escalate any unsavory or hostile situations on your own, before asking your friendly HR department to step in.
     

  • Don’t be Defensive: Whether or not you have close colleagues working in the HR department. It’s always best to relay any mistakes that you’ve made towards the hostile party to your HR representative. Being more forthcoming will help dictate a successful outcome.
     

  • Follow the Advice Outlined by HR: Finally, follow the advice provided by your HR department. If you want, you can keep a log of your efforts and track the improvements you experience.
     

Dealing with a hostile co-worker is actually a fairly common issue. In fact, 24% of Singapore based employees report that they were the victims of workplace bullying. It is important, however, to keep a positive mindset as every situation can change in time.

For more information on dealing with hostile workplace environments check out “Know Your Rights: Workplace Sexual Harassment in Singapore”

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