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What to Do with an Annoying Co-Worker

By Michelle McQuaid

Ever found yourself dealing with a difficult colleague or client at work? You know who I’m talking about. The the person who, despite your friendliest efforts, always seems to make your relationship more awkward, more complicated and more work.

You can try channeling your strengths to make your interactions with this person a little easier, but the best way to turn these difficult relationships around is to start spotting strengths. I know this may feel like the last thing you want to do right now, but trust me it will save you a lot of wasted frustration and effort.

Building Empathy in Relationships

How can the small act of strengths spotting transform your relationships? Looking for the strengths in others creates a bridge of empathy over which we can come to respect our differences. I tested this approach when working for a boss I didn’t really get along with. Here is how I used spotting, understanding and respecting her strengths to build empathy.

Spotting Character Strengths in Others

First, instead of turning up for meetings looking for all the things my boss did that annoyed me, I decided to start hunting for her strengths. It didn’t take too long to see she lit up like a Christmas tree when she was setting down plans, agreeing on milestones, and making sure we were diligently delivering. It soon became clear prudence was one of her top strengths.

Second, I took the time to understand more about this strength and how it might impact our relationship. People high in the strength of prudence are careful, cautious and conscientious. They think before they act, consider all the consequences, and are practical in their decisions and plans. On the other hand, one of my top strengths is creativity. I love coming up with new ways to do things and am never content with doing something in the conventional way if I think there’s a better way to get it done.

As we sat in meetings together, my boss would try and make sure we were carefully following the plan, while I kept offering new ways to improve things. It’s no wonder she thought I was flighty, or that I thought she was a stick in the mud. It was simply a case of our strengths colliding.

Finally, I began to respect, value and appreciate the diversity of our strengths. By understanding more about my boss’ top strength, I came to realize she wasn’t behaving this way to annoy me. She was honoring what she did best.

Having Better Relationships

This melted away the personal animosity in our relationship and created a space for me to be able to value the use of her prudence to ensure the project stayed on track. It also helped me have a conversation with her about my strength of creativity and the best way to use this to support the project, without undermining the plan.

We didn’t suddenly become best friends, but it did make our relationship a lot easier to navigate as we each came to trust we were respected for our strengths.

How are you spotting and appreciating the strengths in your most difficult relationships at work?