We all have “that” person at work, that one annoying coworker with an uncanny ability to get under our skin — even make the environment feel toxic. Whether it’s the office know-it-all or a passive-aggressive button-pusher, every interaction makes our blood boil.
Unfortunately, dodging them in the hallways or fantasizing that they’ll get fired only works for so long. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to face them. (Sound of sad trombone.)
The good news is, it’s possible to feel better. The harder news is, doing so is up to you. It’s not enough to behave impeccably despite someone acting horribly; your reactions to them are making you unhappy. So it’s time to change your reactions.
Of course, if this person is actually being abusive or harassing you, it goes beyond high-level irritation, and it’s time to get Human Resources involved, stat.
But if things aren’t quite that extreme, then the best way to regain your calm self is to change the way you respond when they send that next rude email or disrupt yet another meeting.
Here are six things you can do to keep “that person” from ruining your day (again):
You vs. Your Office Nemesis: 6 Ways to Feel Better
- Take slow, deep breaths. Research shows that this is one of the best ways to relax. When we’re feeling stressed, our body releases hormones that trigger the fight or flight response. When we’re in this mode, it can be hard to think clearly or act calmly. Taking a moment to take a few slow, deep breaths is like putting the brakes on our body’s stress.
- Be like Elsa and let it go: Close your eyes and scan your body mentally from head to toe. Where are you still holding stress? Visualize tension draining out of your body like sand from a sandbag, and see if your emotional state starts to lighten, too. Ahhh. (You could also try giving yourself a massage.)
- Go for a walk: Study after study shows that endorphins are powerful allies when it comes to boosting positive emotions. Plus, changing our environment can mellow out a fraught situation. Suddenly, with physical distance, we begin to get some perspective and remember that the world is larger than this one person, or this one problem, that seemed all-absorbing just a moment before. As you walk, make a point of tuning into all your senses. What do see? Hear? Smell? Feel? Absorb yourself in new stimuli.
- Harness your inner Meryl Streep: Once the immediate moment of tension has passed, get into character. Your assignment: Write a letter from your tormentor to you, in which you imagine what they might tell you about why they’re acting the way they are. What’s going on in their personal life? What pressure are they under at work? How might they see you as the one who is acting unfairly? The goal here isn’t to read their minds. It’s to use the power of your imagination to consider how it might feel inside their skin. This will spark your ability to empathize, which will unlock your ability to move forward in more constructive ways. (You may or may not win an Oscar.)
- Reach out: If you’re up for it, you might actually try to get to know this person better. Invite them out for lunch or coffee. Ask them about their interests outside of work. Getting someone to talk about something they genuinely love can be a great way to bring out their softer side and provide an opening for real connection. Even better, find a shared interest, and plan an outing.
- Avoid the anticipation trap: When someone irks you repeatedly, it’s easy to fall into a cycle where you begin anticipating future frustrating scenarios. The result? Your stress builds without the other person actually doing anything. If you find yourself beginning to anticipate the rude email they’ll send or how they’ll disrupt tomorrow’s meeting, gently remind yourself that this is all in your mind. Rather than imagining the worst, choose to imagine the best — a scenario where the two of you work together effectively. Even if it feels forced or unrealistic, use your creativity to think of strategies you can actually put to use.
Let us know how these ideas work for you. And thank you, sincerely, for your willingness to do the work of repairing relationships. The more people willing to do this, at all levels, the better place our world will be.
Here’s some additional reading on how to deal with challenging people and build strong relationships:
- Empathy: The single best way to get unstuck
- How to deal with disrespect: 9 true stories
- Recipe for making relationships at work