In a perfect world, we would want to be friends with all our co-workers. The world, however, is not perfect, and many employees are stuck negotiating relationships with colleagues they’d never choose to have in their lives, if it were up to them. Knowing how to assert your boundaries without alienating everybody can help you keep things professional.
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Civility, politeness, and common courtesy are important. Do not cease offering basic social appropriateness to co-workers no matter how much you may personally dislike them. You have to work together; you do not have to be friends.
Knowing what your boundaries are and knowing how to assert them effectively are two different things. You need to decide what is most important. If you want to be liked by everybody, you will probably accommodate the needs of an overly friendly co-worker more than you are comfortable. If you want the space to do your work, you may need to behave in a less accommodating manner, or say something.
If your co-worker wants to talk to you about her child, for example, and you want to work, don’t engage. Don’t ask questions or start talking about your own child. If she asks you a question, give a short answer and go back to what you were doing.
When somebody is chatting away about her personal life, try saying, “Look at the time! I have to get this done.” If you do this before you are feeling angry and stressed, you may avoid sounding harsh and off-putting. Or if somebody is gossiping about managers or other employees, try changing the conversation. Say something like, “I don’t know about that,” and change the subject.
At The Workplace Stack Exchange, an employee has a young colleague who is constantly talking about her personal life. The writer feels stuck between a rock and a hard place because she doesn’t want to be the bad guy, but really doesn’t want to talk to this person.
In this situation, the employee’s best bet is likely not to engage, to change the subject of the conversation, and to focus on work. She may not be able to avoid being the bad guy, but she can try by simply using a civil and kind tone of voice.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, be prepared for the possibility that a co-worker with poor personal boundaries will see you as the bad guy if you don’t give him what he wants. Continue to behave in a consistent and civil manner; do not become rude or escalate the situation. In the end, everybody will likely be judged on their own behavior.
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