workplace-conflict.jpgWe’re all upset with members of Congress because they have trouble playing nice with each other, even for the greater good of the nation. But maybe we should look in the mirror.

Elected officials don’t have a corner on the we-just-can’t-get-along market. I can’t tell you how many emails I get from readers, and even from friends, seeking advice on how to deal with a manager or coworkers who bullied them, undermined them, was jealous of them, gossiped about them, or took credit for their work. A CareerBuilder survey found that one in four workers felt bullied at work; and 27 percent thought people gossiped about them.

Yes, often it’s a boss we grumble about, but we can’t see eye to eye with our fellow cube mates either. Many of us don’t think our coworkers are very well behaved, according to a Monster poll. Here’s a list of what ticks us off about those workers in the cubicle next door:

> Coworkers who gossip: 35%
> Coworkers who don’t clean up after themselves: 25%
> Coworkers who are too loud: 14%
> Coworkers who text or email when they’re in meetings: 10%
> Other / none of the above: 16%

We might be expecting a lot from Congress after all. If we get on each other’s nerves so much, how the heck can we do our best on the job?

A UK study by PeopleResolutions found that 28 percent of HR personnel believe the time and energy they put into resolving conflicts at work negatively affects their own productivity; and 64 percent think conflict impacts the performance of the entire workforce.

And what about stress? Guess what’s the No. 2 biggest workplace stressor for employees? “People issues,” according to a ComPsych study from late last year. About 33 percent of those polled said that “people issues” was one of their biggest stressors; and the only thing that stresses us out more was increasing “workload issues” as 35 percent. Nearly 45 percent of those surveyed said that stress impacted their productivity to the tune of one hour lost every day.

So clearly, we should all get along, but that’s easier said than done.

Here’s some advice on how to deal with certain types of coworkers:

* The coworker who is passive aggressive, dumps work on other people, and one you’re already confronted, making matters even worse and leaving you feeling powerless and angry:

Your first problem is you’re feelings of powerlessness, says Gus Stieber with Bensinger DuPont & Associates, a company that provides employee assistance programs. You need to take back control of your own emotions. You can confront your co-worker but address a particular incident not her personality. You can’t change others. You can only control yourself.

Ask yourself, he advises, why now? Why are you so upset about this co-worker that you would blow up at her after all these years working together. “Maybe he’s displaying some of his own passive-aggressive behavior to her,” he surmises. Look at your own pressures from outside the office. Has anything changed?

You do have choices in your life. You can stay and deal with your co-worker directly in a professional way, or you can move out of the small town and find another job.

“When you empower yourself and realize you have a choice you’ll see things differently,” Stieber says.

* The two-faced back stabber:

Backstabbers are rarely focused on just one target, Stieber says. She’s probably doing it to other employees but you are hypersensitive to her behavior.

The best way to deal with a backstabber is to be direct because they tend not to want to deal with people directly.

You have to judge what it’s worth to you. If you escalate the matter and take it to the higher ups there will be consequences, either positive or negative.

The key is knowing what the power relationships are at work, Stieber says. If you complain to a manager but it turns out the employee you’re complaining about is close with that supervisor, you’re in trouble.

* The coworkers who kisses up and gets what he or she wants:

Kissing up is a popular tactic when trying to climb the ladder. “They will screw everyone below them and just play up to people above them. It works because people above aren’t always good managers,” Stieber says.

You’re complaining about a relationship you have no control over. Tell her you don’t appreciate it when she is rude to you and move on.

If you need to vent about the individual, and there’s nothing wrong with that, do so with family and friends outside of work.

The question is, Stieber adds, why are you working? Be a professional and don’t get emotional. We have to face that co-worker conflict has become a part of today’s workplace. And in some cases managers actually use the conflict to play workers off of each other.

No way around it, this type of behavior poisons the work environment, but you have to decide how sick it’s going to make you.

At the time of this writing, Congress looked like it was close to an tenuous agreement on the debt ceiling. But before we get to high and mighty about how unreasonable they’ve been, maybe we should first smoke a peace pipe with those folks we spend most of our waking hours with.

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