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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

How to deal with coworkers from hell

Difficult people are scattered throughout the hospital.  They have miserable lives, and they want to share their misery.  Their goal when they wake up every morning is to make as many people miserable as possible.  So what do you do if you have a run in with The Coworker from Hell.  How do you deal with her?

I would estimate that about 90 percent of people wake up every morning and think to themselves:  "What can I do to have a good day today?"  Most of us are inertly happy.  We plan out our days so we do the things we enjoy, spend time with people who make us happy, so we in turn can be happy.

We try to avoid conflict because conflict is the antithesis of happiness.  It's for this reason most of us recommend never talking about politics or religion.  It's for this reason most of us are patient with our coworkers when they don't do things the way we would do them.  We learn to do things -- or not do things -- in order to keep the peace.

Yet the coworker from hell is out to get you. For whatever reason she doesn't feel the need to bother anyone else, but when you are around she's standing right behind you watching your every move waiting for you to make a mistake.  And sometimes she gets mad at you for something you didn't even do yet, but she assumes you will do it, or not do it.  Her goal is to get you, and to knock you down.

You cannot escape her, which is bad in and of itself because just being amid the tension she makes you more prone to making a mistake.  If she's in the RT cave you will have to go to the RT cave at some point.  If she's your boss, you will have to talk to her at some point.  If she's a lab worker who manages the ABG machine you will have to run a blood gas when she's working at some point.  Unlike the rude salesclerk at the grocery store, you cannot avoid the coworker from hell.

So what can you do?  What can you do to remedy the situation, and prevent YOU from blowing up at her:

1.  Prepare for conflict:  Know she is in the room, and tell yourself to ignore her.  Do not get caught off guard, because if you are unprepared you are more likely to respond inappropriately to her.  To the best of your ability, just do what she says and keep your mouth shut.

2. Confront her:  Tell her how you feel.  Tell her what she does that is irritating you.  It's possible she may not know she is bothering you, and this alone can stave off a worsening situation.  Be willing to compromise with her.

3.  Do not bad mouth her:  If you tell your coworkers the coworker from hell is the meanest person you've ever met, this could come back to haunt you.  If it gets back to the coworker from hell, she might have an even greater incentive to get at you.  Be professional and keep your mouth shut.  Despite what you might want to say, speak only kind words of her.

4.  Talk to your boss:  Make sure you keep your boss informed every step of the way because your boss can be your biggest ally in your attempt to keep the peace.  Make sure she is completely aware of the situationion and why it is important to you and the institution to keep the peace with this person.  You do not have to have a valid argument to approach your boss about a conflict with a coworker.  I say this because your boss can be the best arbiter of the peace, even if that means letting you know you are wrong.  If your boss is the coworker from hell, find someone you trust to confront with this problem, such as a senior respiratory therapist or supervisor.  You can also confront a nursing supervisor if you need to.  The idea is to share your concerns with someone you trust, or someone who can back you up and help you out (which sometimes means letting you know you are the problem).

5.  Admit your faults:  Don't worry about being wrong, because you will be wrong from time to time.  Don't take it personally if your boss corrects you, or if you have to give in.  This is a normal part of keeping the peace in life.  Know you have weaknesses and that you are sometimes wrong, and this may be your best weapon against the coworker from hell.  Be humble.

6.  Do not be wishy washy:  If you approach this person, do not be wishy washy.  Stick to the facts at hand and that's it.  Do not get off topic. Do not give her ammo to use against you.

7.  Be professional:  Use common sense.  Do not make a big deal of something small.  Do not curse her.  Do not touch her.  Do not hit her.  Do not call her names.  In other words, do not give her ammo to use against you.  Be mature.  Most important, make sure you get your work done and that patient care is not compromised.  This may mean you'll have to work with this person even though she is being unprofessional.

8.  30 second rule:  If you approach her, and to the best of your ability, give yourself 30 seconds to make your point. Once you are done, finish your task and walk away.  Do not seek her out later to finish making your point.  Once the 30 seconds is done, once you walk away, the situation is done as far as you're concerned.  If you restart the argument, then you are as guilty as her.

9.  Avoid Conflict:  To the best of your ability, avoid this conflict. You know what she wants because she constantly tells you, so when she's around do it the way she wants to the best of your ability. If you can avoid her do so.  Don't make waves.

10.  Stick to your morals:  Do not sway from your morals.  Do not curse her.  Do not bad mouth her.  Do not insult her.  To not swear.  Do not push her.  Do not hit her.  Violating your morals simply ads fuel to the fire and gives her ammo to use against you.

11.  Confront her again:  By now you've talked to your boss and she understands you.  In your bosses attempt to keep the peace, she has failed to solve the problem.  This does not mean your boss is bad, this is just normal.  If the situation continues to get worse, if your coworker continues to be irrational,  continue to try to avoid conflict.  However, there may come a time when you will blow up at this person.  Just be sure to follow every rule above.  There have been a few occasions I have confronted a coworker in this fashion and then said at the end, "... and please write this situation up."  This always surprises them, and they never write it up.  This is sometimes the best way to get the ball moving toward remedying a problem if it hasn't been done yet.  WARNING:  Be careful here because this could backfire.  Be sure to talk to your boss IMMEDIATELY if you do this.

8.  Move on:  Your coworker may not be over it, but you will because you are the better person.  Do not make an issue of it greater than what is necessary.  Go about your job and continue to be happy.  Smile as often as you can to assure people you mean no harm.  Be kind, even to the person who is the coworker from hell.  This is one of the best tricks in the book.  Be positive.  Be optimistic.  Be a good person and everyone will love you and be happy when you are in their presence.

Note:  While I used a female in my above example, coworkers from hell are just as likely to be males.  The above advice is based on my own personal experience dealing with and remedying problems in the workplace.  It is not based on any professional advice.  However, I did reference the following article:  Gruenemay, Jennifer, "Coworkers from hell?  5 ways to deal,", March 28, 2008, viewd on May 9, 2012

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