As a life coach, one of the most common issues I hear from my clients is "I like my job but my co-worker drives me crazy!" Whether it's someone who does nothing but complain, dragging the entire office down, or a person who is such a perfectionist that nothing you do is ever good enough, it seems every office has a co-worker from hell. Let's call him Mike.
So how do you handle the Mike in your life?
Shantideva, a Buddhist monk in the 8th century, suggested that attempting to create inner happiness by changing your external circumstances is like trying to protect your feet by covering the whole world in leather: an exhausting and pointless task.
You can't change the world to protect yourself but you can focus on the things around you that are controllable: yourself and how you react to Mike.
1. Know that what you allow will continue.
The first rule of dealing with difficult people? "Do no harm, but take no sh*t." Mute acceptance of Mike's bad behavior is only going to feed your frustration, so speak up!
If Mike gets defensive, explain your reaction using "I feel" statements.
"Mike, when you come at me first thing in the morning, before I even have my coat off, I feel bombarded. Could we pick another time to talk about this?"
Although Mike may argue specifics ("You had your coat off!"), he can't argue with how he made you feel.
2. Explore any underlying emotions that may be impacting your feelings.
Anger is an early warning system that lets you know when your boundaries, your safety or your sense of self feel threatened. It also pops up to cover uncomfortable emotions like shame or fear. When you're pissed at Mike, what else might be going on? Are you mad that he's nitpicking or are you embarrassed that you made a mistake?
Tackle your shame, not Mike. Shantideva would be proud.
3. Don't poke the bear.
Frustration is not just an emotional state. It is a cascade of chemicals barreling through your body like an ornery bear. If unprovoked, your system will clear those chemicals on its own.
Your internal dialogue can either calm that bear down or it can rile it up.
Reaction #1: "Mike is such an SOB. No matter what I do, he's never happy! Gaah!"
Reaction #2: "Wow, Mike's in fine form today. I wonder what I'll have for lunch?"
Feel the difference? Don't poke the bear.
4. Get curious about what you're observing.
Create some emotional distance from a workplace that's making you crazy by putting on your anthropologist's hat.
Pretend you are observing some ancient tribe of Neanderthals. Approach your subjects with curiosity and remember that the key to good anthropology work is dispassionate observation.
"In addition to hyperhidrosis, the large male appears to have dominance issues."
Your emotional pith helmet provides just the right amount of scientific detachment when the primates start flinging poo.
5. Remember: Choice = Power
Changes are, you are making a choice to go to work. The alternatives may be unpleasant but understanding that you're not powerless can be liberating.
Which feels better?
"I choose to go to work today, so I can pay for that trip to Bali."
"I have to go to work and deal with that a**hole today!"
Feel the difference? Choice = power = less frustration. And if you honestly can't stand one more day of working with this jerk, quit! It is truly your choice. Just remember that there's bound to be a Mike in almost every office.
6. Never tolerate abuse.
All of these techniques work great for braving the annoying Mikes of Cubical Nation, but you should never put up with abusive, intimidating or inappropriate behavior at work. If you are dealing with any of these, speak to your supervisor. You have the right to feel safe at work.
7. Sometimes, it's OK to quit.
If you've walked a mile in Shantideva's sandals and you're still dreading Monday morning, maybe your work just isn't working for you.
Is your inner sommelier withering on the vine at that desk job? Are you desperate to launch the ejector seat, but too scared to pull the handle?
Do it. Life's too long to hate your job.
If you could use a wingman, a good life coach will help you pack your parachute and map out a smooth landing. It's what we do!