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I'm Having Trouble Managing My Reactions With A Frustrating Co-worker

by Karenira

I must admit it's not the first time I get so frustrated with a co-worker that I start raising my voice. It happened before although normally it happens in very stressful circumstances.

Most of people find me very nice. However there are a few personality traits which drive me mad. People who normally drive me mad are the ones who ask a question and interrupt and contradict me when I try to explain. Even if I manage to finish, they normally go and do their own thing anyway, and it's never what we've agreed.

Also normally they never admit they don't understand what I'm talking about. Even if I ask, they will always say they understood and then ask the same question again. They never take notes. Even if something is totally wrong they will never take the responsibility, there is always someone else to blame.

I simply don't trust these people. What is interesting, these are normally men (I am a woman). It only happened once to me with a woman. Most of my male colleagues respect me, I must admit, and treat me equally. The ones who have problems with me and I have a problem with them are normally older men or insecure managers who won't listen to a younger woman.

Anyway, I admire people who are able to stay calm in these sort of situations. After a while I can't help but raise my voice, I become so frustrated. And that starts a conflict.

Currently, the annoying colleague sits next to me. He asks me questions and immediately contradicts me. He is quite new at the company, older than me of course. We work on the same project and it seems like he would like to 'mentor' me but I don't need it.

I find it patronizing and to be honest I know much more about the project and the system. He will never know as much as I do as he never listens. He offers 'help' when I don't need it, he should do his work instead. He goes off and does things without telling me and it impacts my work.

He does not want to forward me emails even if I ask him to do so. I do not ask him to tell me everything, only issues which impact my work. In one case he even wanted to 'explain' the issue to me, even though all the info he had gotten from me before.

I could tell he had no clue, so I asked him to forward me an email, which he refused. Then another colleague who values me decided it would be good to loop me in, and I didn't even ask him to. He decided to do this after having a chat with me about the issue.

This colleague is also very knowledgeable and the impossible one for some reason tries to undermine him in my eyes which I find totally bizarre. Maybe because he is young and the old one can't stand young, talented and dynamic people.

I can only say that he is in the same position as I am but is trying to behave like my boss.

And what is the most annoying that he always says 'Sure, sure, sure' and one can only be sure that it won't be done the way we agreed, or that he didn't get it.

I got really annoyed last week and was pretty blunt, other people were listening. I feel guilty and of course am worried about what others think. Currently whenever he speaks to me I get really agitated. He speaks to me very often, what is interesting. He never asks questions to other team members, he only asks me and then immediately contradicts -- what's the point?

I quite often ask him to talk to someone else and he never does it. He talks to people about things I am responsible for or have better knowledge and never involves me. Or he never asks me a question when he talks to someone else.

Last week I intervened, and I was a bit agitated. But again it sounded like they wanted to do something on our system without telling everyone. When I intervened he tried to make a 'calm down woman' type of comment but I just showed with my hand a 'stop' sign and he shut up.

I start talking over him mainly because he always interrupts and I don't have time to repeat the same thing again. I started interrupting him too which I don't like in my behaviour but it is so frustrating. I got really angry now while even thinking of this.

Response from Dr. DeFoore

Hello Karenira, and thanks for telling your story here. You express yourself very clearly here, and it's easy to see why you would be very frustrated with these types of co-worker relationships. I'm sure many readers will agree, that your feelings are totally justified.

What I think you're asking for (even though you didn't ask directly), is how to manage your anger (frustration, annoyance) better, so that this problem doesn't upset you so much, and so that it doesn't jeopardize your professional relationships with the people you respect.

One very good way to approach this type of situation is to follow these steps:

1) Make up your mind that you're going to get smarter, healthier and stronger because of this situation. Use it to make you more effective and successful.

2) Understand that you cannot change other people, and yet you have complete freedom to decide how you think and respond to your challenges at work.

3) These types of co-workers really "push your buttons," you might say. You can gain a lot of understanding and emotional freedom by looking at the "wiring" behind your buttons. Specifically, that means examining your personal history to see what past experiences you may have that cause you to react the way you do. This insight alone will help you. Use these journaling exercises to gain the insight you're looking for.

4) Another technique that will help you to rise above these emotional reactions you're having is to spend some time focusing on the positive aspects of the co-workers who annoy you the most. This will help you shift your focus and diffuse your emotional reactivity. This might be difficult without doing the above described journaling process first, but I really encourage you to do it.

5) Finally, make a plan to mention some of these positive aspects directly to some of these annoying co-workers. As you describe them, they are most likely insecure, and perhaps threatened by young, bright people like you. When you decide to start giving them some positive feedback, it will ease the tension you feel, and it will make it easier for you to manage your irritation when they engage in their annoying behavior.

These are not magical cures, but they are in fact tried-and-true relationship management tools, consistent with the research in the field of emotional intelligence in the workplace.

You can do this, Karenira. You can make this work in your favor.

My very best to you,

Dr. DeFoore

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Mar 04, 2017
A Couple Of Possibilities For You
by: Dr. DeFoore

Hi George - I'm sure this is very frustrating for you. These types of workplace challenges can be very tricky.

Here are some things to consider:

1) You're the boss. You can say something to her like, "I really appreciate your input on my ideas. However, I don't like the way you're offering it at this time. So, from now on, I would like you to offer your input to me by email, or when I request it.

2) Another less authoritative approach would be to say (when she contradicts or questions you), "Thanks for your input. I'd like you to hold that thought for a while so that we can move ahead with this project."

You will find this page on assertiveness training to be helpful and relevant.

This takes some practice, but I think you can do it. It may feel awkward at first, but you have every right and reason to try these types of approaches. Your coworker's constant (or frequent) contradictions are non-productive, and you are correct to look for solutions.

My best to you,

Dr. DeFoore

Mar 03, 2017
Why Do You Ask If You Don't Want To Know?
by: George

I too have a similar situation, however some of the details are different.

For 2+ years I worked for the HR dept. of a non-profit, which is in partnership with a contractor for public services. Recently the load has become unmanageable on certain days of the week. So an assistant was hired for the busy days.

We are of the same age. I’m male and the assistant female. The assistant was trained by the contractor and myself. On these busy days we basically do the same work however I am the one responsible for the overall running of the office. I do not hire and fire and do not have many managing skills.

After several months she has worked out very well. However I find that she is increasingly becoming contradictory with me, after asking a policy or procedure question. And now I’ve noticed that it has also spilled into any non-work related conversation.

It comes to the point now where I tell her, "I do not know what to say" or have her call the appropriate party to get the (usually same) answer. (She does not contradict them.) I do that just so I can end the conversation. I’m thinking, why ask me if you don't believe me or you are going to do your own thing anyway?

Now I know I am not perfect and I make my own share of errors, especially being micromanaged by more than one entity. However, I really do not need this assistant telling whenever she thinks I am in error.

Any insight would be helpful.

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