Every so often it seems like we hear about how unpleasant someone’s colleagues are – how unsatisfied, unhappy, and generally upset they are at the nonprofit or social enterprise they work at. It brings everyone down and no one enjoys working with him or her. What to do with a difficult coworker? Read on for a few tips that we’ve seen help.
This may seem inauthentic at first but practicing the skillful conversation redirect is a technique that will help you in many avenues in your work life. When your colleague begins to complain about something, respond with acknowledgment (but not validation) of what they say, and follow it with a more positive, more productive comment. For example, highlight how well a project is going, or how responsive a client is to new changes.
Approach with Caution
Despite your best efforts to delicately shift the direction of the conversation, it might be worthwhile to also address the individual straight away. But we recommend doing this with care, rather than with confrontation. Approach them with concern for their happiness at work. Use first person pronouns so no one feels ganged up on and see if you can come to understand the root of their displeasure. Often times, individuals who are challenging at work don’t feel valued or feel as if their contributions aren’t seen or acknowledged as they should be.
- Try supporting a positive, collaborative work environment. Invite the coworker to join you on a project focused on building employee engagement, tasking them to be part of the solution and not the problem. For an idea starting point, take a look at this Starfish Impact article on employee engagement ideas on a nonprofit’s budget.
- Read The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit to remind yourself that these challenges can be widespread at nonprofits and be inspired by the success stories and strategies from the book’s case studies. You can also check out NonprofitAF’s Nonprofit Happy Hour, a Facebook group for peer support of nonprofit professionals globally.
- Many nonprofits are slow to invest in human resources staff as it can be seen as diverting funds from needed programming or services. Suggest an external human resources consultant like Nonprofit HR, which focuses on the specific needs of the social sector while cost sharing across all clients. The Human Resources Professional Association of Nonprofit Organizations can also provide a list of resources and a network of trusted professionals.
If anything at your office makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, Starfish Impact suggests getting in touch with an HR officer, a supervisor that you trust, or following the established internal recourses that are available to you.
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