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10 strategies for dealing with co-worker tensions

During the course of your career, you won't see eye to eye with all your co-workers. But you can minimize problems if you apply a few tricks to ease the tension. These tips can help you resolve -- or at least survive -- those sticky situations.

During the course of your career, you won't see eye to eye with all your co-workers. But you can minimize problems if you apply a few tricks to ease the tension. These tips can help you resolve -- or at least survive -- those sticky situations.


As an IT pro, there will certainly be times when you won't get a along with a co-worker. The problem can be rooted in differences in approaches, personality, or working styles. Or it might be that an individual is not qualified to work with you and may pose a risk to the IT infrastructure. Whatever the reason for the frustration, there are ways to correct these issue and minimize the interpersonal stress. Here are 10 things you can do within your daily IT practice to help.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Beef up security via best practices

If you're concerned about the reckless approach of a co-worker, it may be best to keep that person out. This becomes difficult if you are in a group of like-titled people and you aren't the supervisor.

One approach is to offer best practices from credible sources, such as Gartner or the Burton group, on security or access policies. If these are implemented, certain systems may be reassessed to remove administrative access for all and to implement role-based access for each employee. This approach assesses the IT staffers' skills and identifies which areas of a critical system they need access to and at what level. Most small and medium-size IT shops have all IT staffers as "everyone's an admin," but large organizations do not. If an individual does not have typical access to the system(s) you're worried about, that may help keep your concerns at bay.

2: Know the facts

Before things get out of control with a co-worker, be sure you know what's going on. If you're concerned about a co-worker's work habits, review any log files you have common access to so you can see what's happening on systems. Don't look at log files on anyone's personal profiles, desktops, or workstations -- just server-side events. A good example would be a database or log file where you could sort by username. You want to be careful not to snoop, but in the course of your administration, you can see what other co-workers are doing. This is a fine line, and the details vary from organization to organization.

3: Engage others to diffuse tension

Tension with a co-worker is usually pretty obvious to the observer. One way to help lessen the tension is to involve other individuals. By including others in relevant work-related matters, the flow of the conversations will be steered and buffered by their participation. Chances are, others know of your tension, so try not to create a situation in which sides are taken.

4: Push communication through e-mail

Although it's difficult to gauge tone through e-mail, sometimes the small annoyances do not have the same effect over the wire. On the other hand, they may be magnified. Consider putting clear, concise communication in e-mail messages, and cc other relevant individuals. In this way, any replies can help you manage the tone or tension by having other parties "listening" via e-mail messaging.

5: Approach management

Nobody likes a rat, but you have a duty to keep your IT environment as healthy as possible. If you have evidence of technical irresponsibility by a co-worker, approach management and let them respond. You don't have to share all your concerns. If you simply explain the sequence of events, corrective action may be taken. In the best case, the issues will be corrected once management approaches the co-worker with the facts.

6: Suck it up

Unfortunately, sometimes we have to be the bigger person and be as professional as possible in unpleasant situations. Although IT can sometimes be informal and loose in the workplace, reinstating basic rules of politeness and courtesy can influence others positively. This may help reduce the friction between you and the co-worker and at least make it a professional working relationship instead of a series of adversarial encounters.

7: Alter the workplace dynamic

Change things up a little by requesting to work from home occasionally, if that's possible. Or maybe work at another office for a day, if your organization has multiple locations in the same area. You could go one step further and ask to relocate or have additional walls or furniture installed. If your small group does not currently use an instant messaging solution, suggest that to lighten some of the communication footprint. These tactics can provide some separation that may help ease tensions and make the situation more bearable for you, the co-worker, and others in the vicinity.

8: Don't be a gossip server

While it may feel good to talk on about the co-worker you have problems with, don't. This is totally inadvisable in the workplace. You can converse about the issues with family or friends who have no connection to your work. Not talking about it is bad for you, but talking about it with other co-workers is worse.

9: Don't isolate yourself

If you totally avoid the tension with the co-worker by removing yourself, you may be avoiding the issue yet hurting your own standing in the organization. It is incredibly awkward if no other avenues seem to work, but closing up is not a successful strategy. Water cooler conversations show that you are alive. There are better ways to address the issue than becoming a hermit.

10: Limit what you say

Keep your conversations concise and to the point with the problematic co-worker. Face it: You work together, and direct communication at some level is a requirement. Make efforts to get closure on those conversations so that you can return to other activities. Follow up with comments like "Send me an e-mail if you think of anything else on the topic." Keep these comments polite and professional; rushing out of a conversation conveys a different message.

How do you handle co-worker tension?

You have to be willing to make the best of the situation with a co-worker you have problems with.  Many strategies can help, but not every approach works for every situation. How do you go about dealing with co-worker stresses? Share your comments below.

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