How to Be Assertive With an Underhanded Coworker

Deal directly with underhanded coworkers.

Deal directly with underhanded coworkers.

Underhanded coworkers can make it impossible to enjoy your workday, let alone be productive. Every office seems to have them, but they’re your peers and you should never feel any apprehension about talking to them if a difficult situation arises. If you avoid addressing any problems, you do yourself a disservice. When dealing with the issue of an underhanded co-worker head-on, the worst thing that can happen is more of the same. It's not hurting anyone when you try to correct the problem.

Assess the situation before broaching the topic with anyone. You're dealing with many personalities for 40 hours a week, so someone is inevitably going to get under your skin. With thoughtful and objective evaluation, you can come to a better understanding of whom you’re dealing with and what exactly is happening to you. You might be misreading your colleague's actions.

Prepare yourself for any interaction with this coworker. Run potential scenarios in your head, anticipate what might be said and formulate professional responses to potential situations. Doing so can prevent you from reacting with anger or animosity, which can worsen the situation for you and others in the workplace.

Discuss the problem with your coworker. Once you understand whom you’re dealing with and what’s happening to you, bring up examples of the inappropriate or offending behavior to them. Stress your thoughts and feelings about what’s going on and how it hinders your ability to do your job. Mention that you will need to escalate the situation to management if it cannot be resolved.

Define the boundaries of your job. Determine roles and responsibilities of any project you and the coworker must complete together, and then follow up with an email detailing the decisions. As you work together, insist on progress reports -- and you should supply the same -- to prevent anything from slipping through the cracks that may later be blamed on you.

Stand up for yourself if the coworker tries to belittle or discredit your work. Respond as soon as it happens, using facts to back up your defense. Sometimes this is easier said than done, but self-confidence is the best defense for overly critical or manipulative coworkers.

Enlist the help of a third party if you’re unable to resolve the situation yourself. But make sure the third person is impartial, such as a team-lead or manager. This allows you and the coworker to voice your frustrations without judgment. The two of you may ultimately find common ground.

Remove yourself from the situation if all else fails. This might mean switching desks, switching departments or even switching jobs. It’s just not worth the stress, so put the problem and coworker behind you.

Tips

  • As you prepare for the inevitable interaction, play out likely scenarios in your head and then determine the best way to proactively handle the conflict. Snide remarks and name-calling do nothing more than fuel the fire, so try to resolve the conflict professionally, yet with self-confidence.
  • More often than not, you’re not the only one having an issue with this coworker. If you’re forced to switch desks, departments or jobs, a manager will likely ask you why. Be candid with your answer. Others in the workplace are probably experiencing a similar issue with this person, and the manager may choose to remove the troublemaker rather than lose you.
 

About the Author

Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.

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