Please Remain Seated: 5 Tips for Dealing With Coworker Turbulence

by Alphild Dick, Senior Editor

Please Remain Seated: 5 Tips for Dealing With Coworker Turbulence

alphild-dickWhen we train to be librarians, we talk a lot about how to work with patrons. Libraries are people places, and it’s easy to get jazzed up about a career spent helping people. However, libraries are people places beyond patrons; they are also filled with coworkers. Coworkers are a unique set of people in your life. They can teach, guide, and mentor you through numerous stages of your career, helping you develop skills you can’t learn in school. Some of them will become your friends, enriching your life both at work and outside of it.

And some of them will be more challenging. It is inevitable in your career that you will have coworkers that are not easy to work with. Sometimes sticky relationships can be remedied with relative ease, with the natural adjustment of expectations and communication that occurs during an ongoing working relationship. However, it is also occasionally the case that problems are not smoothed out on their own over time. These cases have the possibility to create real problems in your working environment, hampering your ability (and your coworker’s) to effectively do your job.

So what do you do when you feel stuck in an increasingly negative working relationship? Here are some reliable ways to help you deal with the turbulence of library coworker conflict.

  1. Remove yourself from the conflict. There’s a reason why moms put their kids in time out. Sometimes the best medicine is to step back and allow yourself (and your coworker) to decompress. You will not find the right solution by using the break to stew on the problem, though. Focus on another project, engage with another coworker (on a non-conflict related issue), or occupy yourself with busy work. If you work in a library, I find repetitive tasks like shelf reading surprisingly soothing when I am frustrated.
  2. Try a new perspective. When you’ve had a chance to take a few deep yogi breaths and clear your head, consider your coworker’s perspective. Is the problem a result of intention? Or perhaps a result of approach? Understanding the difference between the two can often be the key to defusing difficulties. If this doesn’t seem to help, try another manner of shifting perspectives–positive thinking! What are your coworker’s positive qualities? Focusing on these can dial back your own negative feelings about your colleague.
  3. Communicate. But before you do, consider your communication style, and your coworkers. Sometimes this alone can be the root of an argument. Is your coworker an extrovert who speaks their mind? Are you more reserved and prone to avoid confrontation? These sorts of differences can be challenging, but once understood, they can also be overcome.
  4. Apologize. Once you have taken a break and now better understand the conflict, it’s time to mend fences…and apologies are great fence-mending material. While I am not an advocate of issuing blanket apologies–this doesn’t help workplace relationships, either–being willing to own up to your own missteps first can be a good icebreaker and help your coworker feel more comfortable addressing whatever is at the heart of the issue. Personal growth bonus points? Learning how to articulate your role in a given problem will give you a better understanding of yourself!
  5. Above all, keep it professional. In especially difficult situations, this can be inordinately hard, yet it is essential. Use your cooling off time to throw an internal toddler-style tantrum if you need to, but remaining calm, workplace-focused, and collegial is essential for building and maintaining positive workplace relationships.

Finally, do remember that if a conflict seems to be going on for too long, it can help to have a supervisor mediate. Being willing to have an appropriate third party sit in and look at the problem with you and your coworker can be immensely helpful and can ultimately help you get back to your normal routine.

What techniques have worked well for you in solving problems with coworkers? Share in the comments!