Dealing With Angry and Hostile Coworkers

It’s normal to react angrily when a colleague is hostile to you. Everybody experiences this scenario at least once in business. Now you have a choice. How are you going to use this anger and hostility when you have to deal with Pouncers and Resenters?

If you do nothing but put on a long face and pout about it, your brain will rust. If you admit to yourself how you’re feeling, you begin to put the anger and hostility to work. You start to dream up ways to discard your resentment.

After eliminating the tactics of physically fighting the aggressor and “accidentally” pouring hot coffee in their laps, you free your mind to focus on achieving the objectives that are in your best interest.

Pouncers attack you personally while arguing an issue. These colleagues are so determined to score points with the boss that they block whatever you toss out for consideration and pounce on you instead of the problem. They twist everything you say so that you become the opponent who has to be brought down and overcome.

When they pounce on you, you know you’ve been hit. They don’t hold back with their attack. You feel hurt, but are more concerned with the consequences. Your credibility is being kicked around like a soccer ball. How do you keep the Pouncers from injuring your career?

Let’s look at Dwight. Dwight can’t debate an issue on its merits. It’s somehow my fault that I don’t go along with his conclusions. After the boss asked me to head the study group, we divided the jobs and all the other members came through. Dwight didn’t do the work and then blamed me for picking on him when I asked for his assignments. I have to dodge his attacks while Dwight gets away with goofing off. If he keeps this up, the others can lose confidence in my leadership ability.

Dwight’s thinking goes something like this: “If he wasn’t so stupid he would see that another approach would get the job done a lot faster without putting forth so much effort. He just wants to show me up, but I’ll beat him to it. I’ll make sure the whole group sees how incompetent he is.”

What can you do with a coworker like this? Your goal is to maintain your professionalism as you carry out your assignments, while minimizing any damage Pouncers can do to your standing:

•Continue your game plan. Don’t be sidelined by a challenge match. Instead, question the Pouncer to show that you are determined to do the job without stooping to his level. Elevate the discussion by moving the emphasis away from individuals back to the issue at hand.
•Talk to him privately if he continues to pounce on you. Say that you would like to have a better relationship and ask how he thinks you may be able to resolve your differences.
•Learn where you can – and can’t – expect support. Determine through the grapevine if the Pouncer has company friends in high places. If so, an ongoing feud can hurt your chance to advance. It’s not worth the effort. Concentrate on doing your job and making more friends.

You’re not after 100 percent harmony. You and your Pouncer seldom will come to a friendly relationship. You just need to come to some understanding that lets you get on with your work. To arrange a truce, handle the conflict with direct, clear, and face-to-face confrontation instead of memos or phone calls which tend to dilute communications.

Resenters jealously begrudge you the praises you receive. These peers are resentful. They want what you have. More than that, they believe they should have what you have. Keep in mind that a whole company can’t be fooled for long.

The worst part about jealousy and resentment is that it erodes the spirit and eats up energy that could have been put to better use. Until the Resenter can let go of his jealousy and anger over your having what is “rightfully” his, he can become consumed with getting revenge. You may be totally innocent and find yourself the victim of spiteful, childish behavior.

What you’re likely thinking is that everyone in your office is congratulating you on the great job you did on a difficult project except for John. He’s too self-centered to be happy for you. He says “Congratulations,” but you can feel his hostility and his envy. You don’t know why he seems to consider you an adversary. Your instincts tell you to be on guard for a disguised attack.

Meanwhile, John can’t understand why everyone is making such a big fuss over you. He could have done it better if only he would have been given the assignment. John doesn’t believe it was just luck that landed you that project. He wonders what you did to get it. John thinks to himself, “I’ll have to dig up the dirt about you because I’m sure you told some lies about me or else I’d been handed that peachy job. But I’ll get even and you’ll never know what hit you.”

Your goal is to protect yourself and, if possible, help your colleague think more positively:

•Keep your talks on a high and friendly level. Don’t let the Resenter get you into an argument, especially not with others.
•Convey that each person’s effort is judged on its own merit. It isn’t good because another’s is bad or valuable because another’s is not valuable. One work stands good or bad by itself.
•Encourage the Resenter. Help him define his personal goals and develop his own special skills and expertise. This will bolster his sense of self worth.

Disarm the Resenter with an honest compliment. Just when he’s all set to hate you, make him like you. Express admiration for whatever he does well, talk about his interests and offer helpful suggestions for him to mull over that may not have occurred to him before.

If life were a bowl of cherries, we wouldn’t have anything to solve. Look at the bright side of business relationships…you’ll never be bored trying to stay in balance.