Everyone comes across a nightmare colleague at some point. Maybe it’s the one who likes to gossip, or the type who microwaves fish in the communal kitchen. Maybe it’s the coworker who leaves the hard work to everyone else or who thrives on drama, no matter the toll it takes on anyone else. Maybe they have a tendency to send passive aggressive emails.
Sometimes, dealing with difficult coworkers can be more of a challenge than the job itself. After all, we spend up to 90,000 hours of our lives at work — and we don’t usually get to choose who we spend them with.
It’s often easier just to ignore the problem colleague and focus on your work and those you do get along with. After all, you can’t change people. But working with someone who is rude or obnoxious can have more of an impact on your life than you realise.
“A rude colleague can have a negative impact on your health and wellbeing in that the stress caused day to day can lead to an increased level of adrenaline and cortisol, which is never great for your health,” says career change coach Alice Stapleton.
This constant release of stress hormones can cause stomach problems and muscular issues, as well as affecting your mental health.
“If someone is continually rude, it can also lead to regular feelings of anger, depression, and frustration if you feel there is little that can be done to challenge or change their behaviour,” she adds.
Our tendency to internalise issues and take things personally can also have a knock-on effect on our own confidence and self-esteem too. If a colleague’s bad behaviour goes unchecked, it can leave you second-guessing and reevaluating your entire career — and whether you’re in the right job.
“Such an impact can affect your career because you’re less likely to put yourself forward for opportunities, limiting your growth and professional development,” Stapleton explains. “If they are in a senior position, it can also make it harder to challenge, for fear of repercussions in the future. If they’re that rude, and put you down in front of others, obviously that can impact how you are seen by the business too, making progression less likely.”
“It seems such a shame that colleagues, and, in particular, managers, can bring about such self-doubt, simply by being rude to others,” she adds. “However, on the plus side, if a colleague is continually rude it can sometimes be the push you need to move on into a new role that you’ve had your eye on for a while.”
It’s hard not to leave your work problems in the office, which means workplace stress can have an impact on your home life too. In 2018, research published in the journal Occupational Health Science found that couples who work in similar fields — either in the same company or the same occupation — will feel the impact of their partner’s workplace problems to the point where it may prevent them from sleeping.
The study, which examined the sleeping habits of 305 couples in a variety of jobs, found that experiencing bad behaviour can lead to poor sleep in both partners, with one person worrying about work — and the other worrying about their partner out of empathy.
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So whether it’s a condescending colleague or a coworker who loves to interrupt, what is the best way to deal with rudeness in the workplace?
It’s easier said than done, but it’s important not to take it personally, Stapleton advises. “Whatever someone says, or how they behave, often says far more about them than it does you,” she explains.
“Through a lens of compassion and kindness, perhaps consider what might be fuelling their rudeness. This can enable us to be more understanding and emphatic when it comes to discussing their behaviour with them, which is what I’d also suggest.”
Essentially, you never really know what someone is going through — particularly if it’s a colleague you don’t know particularly well. It may be that their rude behaviour has nothing to do with you, but is simply a reflection of their own problems.
“We all have a right to express our feelings,” Stapleton adds. “If someone’s behaviour is impacting you in a negative way, it’s always good advice to speak to them in person about how you feel.”
Wait until you’re both calm, rather than in the heat of the moment either during or after an incident of rudeness. “Use ‘I feel X when you...’ statements, instead of ‘you make me feel X when you...’ to avoid sounding critical or accusatory,” she says.
“Assertively express how you’d prefer to be treated, providing specific examples of alternatives if needs be. If all else fails, try to simply ignore their rudeness, and just keep focused on what you’re there to do.”