Their name flashes up on your phone or your inbox pings with a mail from them and you instantly feel your shoulders rise, your jaw tense, your stomach churn and while you try to block them out they keep coming into your mind. Yes, those annoying colleagues, customers, friends or even family members that just know how to push your buttons and while it may not be every interaction that has given you cause to feel this way, you can’t help but anticipate that any future interaction is going to be difficult. I’m not proud to admit it but I actually hid under my office desk one day to avoid my button pusher!

There can be many reasons why we clash with another at work it may be because they are a negative Nancy criticising or moaning about everything and everyone one, or a prima donna with no room in the conversation but them. Maybe they have ‘sloping shoulders’ having this incredible knack to delegate actions to others or appear to have a ‘woe is me’ mentality or simply a very different style of working to you. For example, I had a great colleague at work who loved to strategies, get up in front of the whiteboard and start drawing, while I would find myself frothing at the mouth as I’m a doer. I simply wanted him to stop talking and get out there and implement, I didn’t have time to waste chewing the fat. But that was also what made us a great team we would each bring our own strengths to the situation and recognised this in each other and learnt to be patient with one another, well most of the time!

This is a popular challenge amongst my clients and here are some ideas to help you stop those buttons from being pushed. Not all will be right for your situation, it’s about what works for you so take the best and revisit the rest another time!

Can you change your mindset? Something will only bother you if you choose to let it bother you. In a very simple example, a good friend of mine told me once that she used to get infuriated by husband leaving the shower mat on the floor until she decided that in the great scheme of things it wasn’t really important and she chose to not let it bother her. Ok, this may seem a simple example but this is about rewiring the brain.

Recognise what the triggers are, what is it that this person does that winds you and how do these triggers manifest themselves – how do they make you feel. To retrain your mind when you feel this response occurring you need to change your focus and your physiology. Think of something that will calm you down, perhaps try this breathing exercise, inhale, hold for a count of three then exhale and hold for a count of three. Now change your focus by saying something positive or visualising a positive situation. By continually following this technique you will retrain your brain and will find those old reactions will loosen their hold on you.

Is there substance to this? While we like to think we are perfect, there are times when we can become a bit blinkered. Take a moment and ask yourself:

  • Do other people seem to have problems with your button pusher? If the answer is no, maybe seek out a trusted colleague and ask them to help you. They may have some ideas about how you can find a better way of working with this person.
  • Is there something going on in this person’s life that could be impacting their behaviours? Put yourself in their shoes for a moment, not to excuse their behaviour but to understand it, people do what they do because of their own issues. Maybe you need to cut them some slack temporary.
  • Is it worth your energy? While this person may raise all those feelings in you, how often do you have to interact with them and how key are they to your future career within the organisation. If your time together is minimal and they don’t have any direct impact on your career then is it worth your time and energy working on it, maybe think about how you can limit your interactions and keep discussions focused on the task, being clear about what you need from them and when you need it.

However, if you’ve concluded this is a persistent problem, their behaviour is not justified and is impacting your work then you need to take action. Unfortunately just hoping this will change is not an option.

Have a conversation with them. This is a brave step but something you can plan for. Think about what it is you are trying to achieve and plan your conversation around this. Ensure you have a room which is conducive to a private conversation. Avoid using negative words as this has a tendency to develop a fight or flight scenario when they will either defend themselves (fight) or leave the room (flight) you need them to listen to you. This means that you should avoid using this as a time to berate them about what they have done wrong and instead focus on what you need to do to solve the problem, what you need from them and when. Check out this blog for more information on giving feedback to help you prepare.

Follow up with the person, when you see them making these changes acknowledge it and if they don’t remind them of what you agreed to do.

Ask for help. Maybe having a conversation with your button pusher is not an option you can contemplate. In this scenario you need to ask yourself who can you talk to that can help, speaking to someone else is the first step in helping you move forward. Perhaps your manager, a trusted colleague, your HR contact or someone else senior that you respect and feel comfortable with. In a situation which you consider serious, it may be time to look at making a complaint using your Grievance process or even talking to free external organisations like Citizens Advice or ACAS.

Whether it is someone at work, Great Aunt Mildred and her constant criticism or the nosy neighbour from next door you can choose how you respond:

  1. Change your mindset and understand what triggers your reaction
  2. Is there substance to your reaction, is it just you; step in their shoes for a moment
  3. Consider having a conversation with them or someone you trust

Relationships at work can have a huge impact on how we feel about our jobs. If you are struggling with a work relationship don’t let it take over, leaving it to manifest can make something minor become major. For more information on coaching and how it can help you with work and personal issues check out Positive Dimensions