I used to work in a cubicle. It was at the apex of the office, and people passed by me all day long. I’m usually friendly, so when my co-workers stopped to chat, I generally enjoyed the engagement. Occasionally, I was called out on this behavior during my performance reviews, to which I would sheepishly respond by quoting my fourth grade teacher, Mr. Colton, who told my parents, “Nancy is a very good student but she spends too much time talking to the boys around her.” (Some things never change.)
I realize that friendly co-workers do not generally cause chaos. So, I began thinking about the opposite scenario. What do we do about that colleague who makes us dread Mondays?
The first step in reducing stress and anxiety about your co-workers is to figure out what’s really bothering you. If it’s simply the fact that she wears way too much stinky perfume, you can nicely tell her you think you might be allergic. If it’s the MAGA stickers adorning his cubicle and not his business acumen, you’re probably better off remembering how much you value the right to your own opinion, and practice what you preach.
On the other hand, if your cubicle chaos extends beyond the superficial, you might want to consider a few other approaches. Let’s pretend you have a colleague who publicly criticizes your work at a staff meeting. Is he inherently mean and purposely throwing you under the bus? Is she secretly jealous of your abilities? Could he possibly be oblivious to what he’s doing and the effect it has on you?
I encourage you to first try to understand why your co-worker is being such an ass, and the way to do this is to have a private conversation with him. Try not to accuse, but simply express how you feel. Citing specific examples of the statements made will be helpful, and so will carefully listening to the explanation (even if it sounds a lot like rationalization). Remember two things: start your sentences with “I” rather than “you,” and honestly take accountability for what you might have done to deserve the ill-will.
Another strategy is to get to know your co-worker. Invite her to lunch outside of the office, and ask questions about her life experiences. If you genuinely look for her good qualities, you might be able to create a small connection that will help both of you to get past the anger and resentment.
Of course, if you’ve tried these tactics without success, you’ll need to resort to a higher power. And by that, I mean your manager, supervisor, or the owner of the company. Make sure that you can substantiate your observations with appropriate examples, and explain that you want to resolve the situation before it affects your job performance.
With a nod to an old boss, Leonard the Lunatic, for setting the bad example, I’ve learned to focus on the repair rather than obsess on the fault.