A reader asked about responding to bossy co-workers on my Coping With Negative Coworkers Who Drain Your Energy article. Here are a few ideas on handling difficult people at work, with inspiration from Sophia Loren.
“Getting ahead in a difficult profession [or with difficult co-workers] requires avid faith in yourself,” said Loren. “That is why some people with mediocre talent, but with great inner drive, go so much further than people with vastly superior talent.”
To deal with or confront anyone in your life – whether a toxic friend or a domineering sister-in-law – you need to have faith in yourself. You’ll go further with self-confidence than talent, my friend! Read on for my suggestions on how to handle difficult people at work – and click on Nice Girls Can Finish First: Getting the Results You Want and the Respect You Deserve . . . While Still Being Liked (where two of these suggestions come from).
How to Handle Negative or Bossy Co-Workers – Sophia Loren
This is my reader’s question: “When your office co-workers are bossy, should I just accept their criticisms and comments or should I say something?”
If you plan on working in that office or job for a long time, then yes. I believe you should say something. The sooner you learn to stand up for yourself at work, the happier and healthier you’ll be – both professionally and personally!
Choose the right time. Don’t stand up to a difficult person at work when you’re angry, frustrated, or unhappy. Instead, choose a quiet time – when you’re alone with your co-worker, without an audience – to calmly and carefully express how you feel. But, don’t let this problem at work fester; read 7 Ways to Overcome Procrastination at Work for a boost.
Start on a positive note. Do you like that your co-worker is diligent, attentive, or detail-oriented? “Compliments lower people’s guards, making them more receptive,” writes Dayle Deanna Schwartz in Nice Girls Can Finish First. “Say something nice before confronting problems.” Getting your negative, bossy co-worker on your side can’t hurt!
Be specific about what is bothering you. Say, “I know you don’t mean any harm, but when you ____, I feel _____.” Do you feel incompetent or like you’re not doing your job properly when your co-worker criticizes you (especially when she’s not your boss?). Telling her the truth might make you feel vulnerable in the moment, but it may benefit you in the long run.
Communicate directly and clearly. When you’re asserting yourself with a bossy co-worker, Schwartz suggests stating your position clearly and firmly. You don’t have to be cruel; you just want to avoid sounding wishy washy or afraid. For instance, if you’re being insulted, say “Insulting me is unacceptable.” I’ve also politely and matter-of-factly said “I don’t speak to you like that (disrespectfully, cruelly, negatively, etc), so I’d appreciate if you didn’t speak to me that way.” For more communication tips, read 5 Tips for Becoming More Assertive.
Figure out your role in the problem. Maybe you simply let yourself be treated poorly at work for too long, and now your bossy co-worker is out of control. Or, maybe you’re doing something to contribute to her negativity or bossiness. I don’t know – but I do think it’s important to take a step back and examine your own workplace behavior. You might even ask for suggestions from your co-worker about resolving the issue.
Try to end on a positive note. “Thanks for hearing me out, I appreciate being able to talk to you about this,” might be effective. Or, “This wasn’t easy for me, but I’m glad I could air my feelings. I’d like us to get along!” It depends, of course, on how the conversation went…but even if you don’t resolve the issue, you can thank you co-worker for “agreeing to disagree.”
Practice role playing. Asserting yourself with difficult people at work takes practice! To successfully handle negative co-workers, plan your words and responses with a friend, partner, or family member. Ask your friend to pretend to be the bossy co-worker while you practice the above suggestions. Role playing can be a very effective way to get comfortable with handling negative situations.
One last quotation from Sophia Loren:
“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love,” said Sophia Loren. “When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.”
Use your mind, my friend. Use your talents and creativity – and have faith in yourself. Even if you don’t pick the exact right words or immediately solve your problems, you are moving forward and doing the best you can!
If you have any thoughts or questions on handling difficult people at work, I welcome you below…