3 Ways to Cope with Coworker Disputes

By Amanda Cohen on November 28, 2018

It’s never easy when you don’t feel comfortable with the people you’re working with. More specifically, the discomfort felt when you don’t get along with a coworker can be extremely deterring, especially if this is a coworker that you have to work in close vicinity with. Even if you aren’t the type of person who gets worked up when your relationships aren’t at a steady homeostasis, you still want to work with people you get along with, you are productive with, and, ultimately, people you are comfortable with.

So, what do you do when you just can’t seem to get along with a coworker? Do you throw in the towel and say that this is your life now and you just have to deal with the awkwardness? No! I can’t promise you that you and your coworker will ever be buddy-buddy, but I can help you with coping mechanisms when you and your coworkers (or coworkers) just can’t seem to get along.

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Setting Boundaries

It’s extremely important to set boundaries with anyone in your life, especially coworkers. If you’re working on a project with a coworker that you don’t particularly enjoy, be sure to set work-appropriate boundaries. If possible, only work on the project together when you’re at the office. If this isn’t possible because the project is too big to be finished while at the workplace, go to a neutral location where other people are doing work as well, like a coffee shop or a library.

Some offices are even open to employees after-hours, so you can work there too if you can. If you aren’t working on a project together, but you have to see them on a regular basis, keep conversations to a minimum, don’t except any after-work activity invites, and be cordial, but not overly friendly so you don’t give him/her the wrong idea.

Make it Out in the Open

If there is a mutual “dislike” between you and your coworker, maybe set up a time to sit down with him/her to clear the air. It’s never fun when someone doesn’t like you and when you don’t like someone, so why not talk about it if it’s apparent that the feeling is mutual? If you lay everything out on the table, you and your coworker might come to some sort of understanding so that things don’t have to be awkward anymore. Who knows, you two might even become good friends after talking to him/her!

Whatever you do, if you do make this conflict out in the open, do not get other coworkers involved. Drama is so middle school, there is no need to bring drama into a busy workplace. You can talk to your close friends/coworkers about it, but don’t make it a big thing because it will 100% make the situation worse if you do. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about it with the person you have the issue with, then please keep it to yourself for your own sake and for his/her sake.

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Coming to Terms with It

Sometimes, coworker disputes can’t be fixed. I know this isn’t what you wanted to hear, but this is the cold, hard truth. So, when coworker disagreements and dislikes are irreparable, how do you deal with it? Well, continue to establish boundaries, only converse with the person if you have to, keep your thoughts about your coworker to yourself, and just remind yourself that it isn’t necessary, nor possible, for everyone you come across in life to like you and/or for everyone you come across in life for you to like them.

Before going into work, take a few deep breaths, remember what your goals are and why you’re there, and walk in with confidence and kindness. Always be pleasant, but you don’t have to go out of your way to be overly nice to the coworker you don’t enjoy. You didn’t get the job to be friends with everyone, so don’t let a little bit of animosity get you down. Remember your purpose and when you need a break from your coworker, then take a walk around the office and take a breather.

I hope none of my readers ever have to deal with this problem, but if you do I promise you that it’s not the end of the world. You can get through this and you never know what might happen in the future. For all you know, this coworker will end up being the maid-of-honor or best-man at your wedding. Just remember to never be outwardly mean to your coworker, don’t be petty, be cordial, but just don’t go out of your way to be friends with him/her if you don’t want to. Go to work, do your job, be friends with who you want to be friends with, and keep it at that. Good luck if you are trying out my coping mechanisms!

I am currently a junior at the University of Michigan.

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