How to Stand Up to a Coworker

How to Stand Up to a Coworker | Positively Smitten

Last week I had to do the dreaded: stand up for myself. For some, this may come easy. For others, not so much. We may know in our hearts how we deserve to be treated (with respect!), but having to tell that to someone else, someone who is mistreating you can be the scariest thing in the world. And it can be exponentially harder if this is a person you work with. You want to remain professional and confident, but there’s oh so much you want to say that can come across all wrong. That’s why it’s good to keep the following in mind should you find yourself in a position of needing to teach someone how you deserve to be treated.

1. First, realize that you might be frightened, but you deserve respect. I kept trying to justify this person’s behavior — “Oh, this is just how so-and-so is, don’t take it personally.” But then my boss made a good point: what gives him the right to have a bad attitude…every day? And I have to walk over eggshells? I had to remind myself of this when I kept wanting to talk myself out of confronting the issue, because I felt like I would come across as rude. Know this: if the issue interferes with your professional relationship or simply doing your job, then it’s necessary to speak up.

2. Don’t jump at the first sign of a negative attitude. People have bad days…just like you. Give them the benefit of the doubt for at least a little while, but if it persists, it’s got to stop. People have different personalities, yes, but there’s a difference between “he’s not very talkative” and “he cuts me off and hangs up on me.”

3. Likewise, make sure your motive is to solve a problem, and not to bitch to this person. There’s a huge difference. I had gotten to the point where I was uncomfortable having to reach out to this person for work-related things. I knew I had to address the issue, but I was also leary of coming across as a whiner and as if I had no faults of my own.

4. Talk to your supervisor first so he or she knows the position you’re in. But then agree to address the issue yourself first. When I sat down with my boss to tell her how I was feeling, I was so relieved to hear she had my back — and that others had experienced similar issues. Hearing how she handled a problem coworker gave me a few things to think about. Then, when you talk to the problem person, it might be worthwhile to tell him or her that you have or will be speaking to your manager about this.

5. Have a plan. I outlined a few of my feelings on paper, and then I thought long and hard about how they would come across. This helped me make sure I was talking about how his actions made me feel, and less about how he’s doing this and it’s wrong. Leaving the paper out of sight, make sure to touch upon key points: state a positive about how you have worked well together in the past; how you felt based off of some specific actions/comments; why you wanted to address it; ask if he/she had anything to put on the table or chat about; suggest how, together, you might be able to smooth things out moving forward; and thank him/her for hearing you out (always be the bigger person).

6. Don’t air your issue to too many people. You might feel tempted to tell your coworkers about your situation, because sometimes it feels good to know whose got your back, but sharing too much with too many is never good. Word can spread where you don’t want it to, and the point of this is to handle a problem professionally.

7. What I wouldn’t recommend? Saying sorry a lot, like, “sorry that I’m having to talk to you about this.” Or talking too much just to fill awkward silence. Which brings me to…

8. Be prepared for all kinds of reactions. I got silence and then a weak apology. Don’t expect one. But also don’t take that as a sign that you don’t deserve to speak your mind. Some might walk away or want to hash out a lot of things. Remain calm, confident, and professional.

9. Lead into the conversation having prepared mentally. I’m not saying you have to run through it like you’re going to give a speech (it should actually sound very natural, just have a convo). But go in the bathroom stall and reach your arms as far over your head as you can; this supposedly makes you feel physically bigger and therefore more in charge of the situation.

10. Give yourself a little praise when it’s all said and done. Know that you addressed an issue that was getting out of hand, and that most people would not know how to have done that and therefore would have continued suffering. You deserve to be treated with respect. The weight of the struggle will lift off your shoulders, and hopefully the situation will change. In the end, at least he/she knows how you feel, and how you won’t tolerate it.

Be strong, girl!


2 responses to “How to Stand Up to a Coworker

  1. These are excellent tips and, should I ever need to, this will be the first place I go. Thank you! I’m so proud of you for handling this situation, and also for sharing your experience. 🙂


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