Workplace Wars: Is Office Conflict The Result Of Differing Work Styles?

June 25, 2013  |  

Do you have a co-worker you are constantly butting heads with? If you two don’t really talk, you may imagine all sorts of reasons that you’re always having misunderstandings. Is she out to undermine you? Does he want to make you look incompetent? Is she jealous of you? While many of the scenarios could be true, sometimes it is just a matter of two different work styles.

“The typical office environment is a melting pot of work styles, but the ingredients may not always blend easily. Differing approaches to work can lead to friction, miscommunication and even conflict among colleagues or between a manager and employee,” notes

In fact, a survey by OfficeTeam, the International Association of Administrative Professionals, and Insights Learning and Development, discovered that 70 percent of support staff finds it challenging to team up with someone who has a different work style.

“One of the toughest things is to work with someone who has a totally different work style from your own.  It can become excruciating or frustrating waiting for a person to make decisions when you tend to move much faster,” brand building professional and career coach Theresa O’Neal of O’Neal & Company, LLC tells MadameNoire. “It is important to understand that there may be a lack of confidence in making decisions on your coworker’s part, and you may be able to help by creating shorter benchmarks and checkpoints along the way… You may end up helping them build up their confidence on routine tasks and this may begin to move the process along faster.”

If you are dealing with someone who is trying to undercut you, learn how to deal with the situation. “Some coworkers attempt to undermine you and you constantly feel as if you need to watch your back. Your boss plays favorites and the favored party lords it over you; people form cliques and leave you out. Difficult people and situations exist in every work place….You must address them,” reports

Carefully examine the situation, O’Neal says. Is my co-worker like this with everyone, or just me?  Try and understand a colleague’s work style and use it to your advantage. For example, if the co-worker likes to make everything more complicated than it is, anticipate her questions or difficulties. “Use their nature to [your] advantage by learning to answer questions before they are even asked,” suggest O’Neal. If you are working with someone who is a Negative Nancy, combat the negativity. “When someone is a naysayer, I become much better at going the extra mile to and prepare solutions that will combat the negativity, leaving them little if no choice to say yes and move the project along” says O’Neal.

And if you clash with a co-worker because of their personal issues, put yourself in her shoes and try and move them to act. “… I will hold meetings with a larger group or third party in an attempt to hold them publicly accountable for their decisions.  Sometimes if they see everyone is on the same page but them, it may force them to get with the program,” explains O’Neal.

But there are times when a co-worker just has it in for you. A struggle for status in the office or a coveted promotion can drive hostility. Maintain good sportsmanship and do all things above board,” O’Neal continues.

With all of these do’s, there are a few don’ts. Don’t complain all the time about your co-worker to your boss. Instead, be proactive. Talk rationally to your co-worker and manager and seek suggestions on how to better work together. Once the conflict is out in the open—and you have alerted your boss–it will show you are trying to take the high road and that you have the company’s interest in mind, rather than you own personal needs.

“In this scenario, present your best work, copy supervisors on all correspondence and communication and stay away from bait and traps which distract you crossing the finish line on a project. Once the person gets the message that you continue to loop in your boss, it gives them little room for foolish games,” offers O’Neal.

Are you contributing to the conflict? Know you own behaviors and how they may add to the hostile relationship. It may be possible you just don’t like your co-worker and you’re bringing the feelings into the workplace. “This is the time to remember that work is work and you are not there to make friends,” says O’Neal. “Pay close attention to assignment details, keep conversations to a minimum and utilize reports and formal requests to help refocus yourself and others on the goals.”

How do you deal with difficult work mates?

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