4 Ways to Charm a Mean Co-Worker

Angela and Phyllis in The Office

Angela Martin earned a reputation as the mean co-worker in The Office | Chris Haston/NBC

Most of us have to interact with people we don’t like on a regular basis. It’s especially impossible to avoid co-workers who get on your nerves or who are mean to you.

Unfortunately, unless you leave your job (or your co-worker does), it’s necessary to figure out how to work with your toxic co-worker. If for some reason it seems like everyone is avoiding you, and you consider them all bad co-workers, then there’s a chance that you’re actually the one who is the toxic co-worker.

If you are doing your best to get along with others, and you’re sure that the problem isn’t being caused by you, then you may need to take a different approach to dealing with your colleague. You could complain about your co-worker, but that often isn’t the best or the most productive plan. If you are running out of ideas, it’s time to try charming your workmate instead. Let’s take a look at four simple ways to charm a mean co-worker.

1. Do something about it

The Office meeting

Sometimes a meeting can be productive | NBC

There’s a big difference between meeting bad behavior with more bad behavior, and directly addressing the issue. Some people really don’t realize that they are mean or obnoxious (as hard as that is to believe), and if you confront them directly, they may actually appreciate your honesty. Sometimes what seems mean to you might actually be a big joke to your co-worker, but they won’t change if they don’t realize there is a problem. Of course, if your co-worker is hostile and it’s clear that they are intentionally being awful, then you may need to bring your boss in. However, that response should usually be saved for a last resort.

Set aside a specific time to meet with your co-worker, and do it in private so you won’t embarrass them. Explain what is bothering you, but don’t attack the person or accuse them of poor intentions if you don’t actually know that they are intentionally being mean. If there are multiple problems, then start by addressing the biggest issue first so it won’t seem like you are ambushing your co-worker. If they react negatively, then you need to try something else.

2. Be more agreeable

smiling young woman in park

A friendly smile could take you a long way with a mean co-worker | iStock.com

If a direct discussion didn’t help, then maybe a change of behavior or attitude will. Being agreeable can often warm even the coldest heart, and even if your obnoxious co-worker doesn’t change his or her personality, your change in behavior toward them might be enough to shock them into more civil behavior to you.

It’s important to note that being agreeable doesn’t mean being a pushover (according to Harvard Business Review, if you’re upset that you didn’t speak up at a meeting, your peers are getting promoted before you, or you feel overwhelmed and pulled in many different directions, then you are going too far in your effort to be good). You can avoid being a pushover, but also show more respect and kindness to your co-worker. Although they may not deserve the kindness, you will be much happier if it turns their behavior around.

3. Give your co-worker a chance to shine

Young group of people working on laptops

Give your co-worker a chance to excel | iStock.com

Sometimes people are mean at work, and you may even need to expect people to be selfish at work because many organizations or environments prize individual achievement. One option is to choose to ignore your co-worker’s bad behavior and write it off as selfish. Or, you can choose to let your co-worker shine.

Although it seems unfair that you should help your colleague out if they are causing issues for you, it’s important to remember that if they become happier and therefor they start treating you better, then it is still a win-win situation. Don’t let your co-worker outshine you, but instead, allow them to be effective as well. Compliment them when they do well, help them with a project if you can, and avoid speaking poorly about them to other people in the office. You may get nothing in return, or you may see a big change in very little time because everyone likes to be appreciated and valued.

4. Let go

hot air balloons

Hot air balloons floating away | A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images

If you’ve tried everything you can think of to improve interactions with your co-worker, then you might need to let go of your expectations. While talking directly to or being kinder to your co-worker, or even encouraging them to do well, can work for many co-workers, you may have little luck if this person is simply too unhappy to change their behavior. If possible, try letting go of your anger and frustration. If they irritate you, focus on something else. You may be rewarded by losing their interest as well: Who wants to pick on someone who doesn’t respond or get upset?

Another way of letting go is to simply try to avoid your co-worker. This can be especially helpful if that person is a bully. The truth is that eventually most poor co-workers, including those who are lazy, annoying, or truly mean, will get caught. If they don’t, or your boss doesn’t care, then you may want to find a different company to work for.

The way that you approach your mean co-worker will have a lot to do with the exact behaviors that bother you. If your co-worker is constantly insulting you or demeaning your accomplishments, then you will need to talk to them directly, and potentially bring in a boss if the work environment becomes too toxic. You could also quit your job, but that is too drastic of an option unless you have tried everything else, and your co-worker is mean enough to cause you extreme stress or is harming your work.

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