You spend most of your time at work. So having a positive work environment and culture is important. In fact, your work environment has a strong correlation with your mental, physical, and spiritual health. It's crucial to make sure you are in a healthy work environment. But sometimes you may find yourself working with people who you just don't mesh well with. It's quite common. In my 10 year career, I have encountered at least 1 difficult person I had to work with closely on a long-term project.
We have all been there probably more than we'd like. There is always that one colleague who is always interfering in your or someone else's work. Meddling in all your responsibilities and always finds a way to annoy you each and every day. It can be hard to manage a colleague like this. Especially one who constantly acts like your manager. It's not easy to manage a colleague who interferes in your work.
If finding a new job may not be an option then work to find a way to connect with this person. In fact, learning how to manage and deal with difficult coworkers is a great skill to have as these types of personalities will always show up in some shape or form in your career. I believe that most issues at work can be solved with a simple direct conversation but I have pulled together my top 4 tips to help manage a colleague who constantly interfere in your work. We have a name for people like this but let's be civil here.
Have a Conversation
The most obvious first step is to have a personal conversation with this colleague. Not over an email but a sit-down face to face conversation. I find this to be the hardest step for most people. Confronting someone or giving a team member feedback can be difficult. I wrote an entire post on how to give feedback here.
A sit-down conversation eliminates confusion and provides clarity on the issues at hand. In most cases, I have found that people don't take the time to build relationships with their colleagues. Get to know this person's work style. Understand and become aware of their personality styles. Are they more of an introvert or extrovert at work? Do they prefer email or phone call interactions? Do they need to be briefed consistently on workload? A simple conversation can help set a foundation for a better working relationship.
Keep in mind that this conversation is more about listening and understanding versus telling or explaining. Better understand is what might be causing the tiff between you and your colleague. This can help you understand why they are compelled to constantly interfere with your work. Don't become defensive but have an open mind. Most times the issue at hand can be solved through this simple conversation or meeting.
Another key way to manage a colleague who is interfering in your work is by outlining and setting boundaries. In most jobs, the roles and responsibilities for each person can be muddled. In this initial meeting, outline your roles and responsibilities and make it clear what part of the project, workload or process you own. Most times information as a company reorganizations over time could become unclear. As people shift and shuffle roles, responsibilities begin to overlap especially with seasoned cross-functional partners. Set your boundaries to help provide clarity and defines what is "your work" versus "their work."
A good mini step before this is to connect with your manager and align on what are your key responsibilities so the message is not just coming from you but from leadership as well. Clearly outline your concerns around your current working relationship. Speak up and provide clear examples to help deliver your messages. Establishing boundaries right away is key to setting relationships with your team. Have these initial conversations within weeks of starting your job. This helps set the tone of your work style and what others can expect from you.
Continue to build a strong relationship with your colleagues over time will help build trust and establish a solid working partnership. Don't have an initial conversation and expect that to be enough. Stay connected by setting up periodic touch bases or even coffee chats. Because building a relationship takes time. You need to keep the conversation going. Keep working on this relationship. The connection points are needed when you want to build a relationship with a difficult colleague.
Most of the best relationships at work are built on connections outside of work. Find common ground. What do you both enjoy doing for fun? What sports team do you both follow? At the end of the day, we are not asking you to become best friends but get to know someone on both a personal and professional level has always helped me build great work relationships.
Seek out Help
If you continue to have issues with this colleague then its best to reach out to either a manager or mentor to get help. Seeking out help early is best as this can escalate into something leading to disciplinary actions for both of you. Tell your manager if the interfering is impacting your work. Provide the steps you took to try to solve the problem as your manager will more than likely want to see you own this relationship. Don't be afraid to ask for advice or assistance with a difficult colleague.
Seek out help from external and internal mentors as well as others on your team. It's possible that you are not the only one experiencing these issues. There might be a "known" way to work with this person. Get feedback from others will help you navigate this relationship better. A mentor can provide you with different approaches to take that might be better than the above tips. There is no need to tackle this alone. Others have been in this exact same position and will be willing to help.
Learning to manage a colleague who is interfering with your work is a great skill to become an effective leader. It will help you better understand how to work with people with different opinions, personalities, backgrounds, and workstyles. It's very likely as you continue through your career that you will meet more and more people like this in your career. So get skilled and familiar on how to handle these situations. The outcome is nothing but growth for you both personally and professionally.
About the Author:
Grace Kasozi is the Founder of Kasozi Associates a platform dedicated to connecting women professional to women life, business, and career coaches to help close the gap. Grace has over 10 years of experience building well-known brands. She holds an MBA from the University of Minnesota and is currently a Global Brand Manager at large midwest CPG. She spends her free time traveling the world with her husband and 2-year-old son.