How to get along with a difficult coworker

First step: Respond with kindness, expert says

In a post for the Harvard Business Review, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor of business psychology at University College London and Columbia University, offers tips on how to work constructively with individuals who have low emotional intelligence (EQ).

Chamorro-Premuzic notes that people with low emotional intelligence tend to lack self-awareness and also be grumpier, more negative, and more impulsive than average. But, he says, "Although lower EQ people are generally less rewarding to deal with... there will be many circumstances" that require interaction with such individuals in the workplace.

To better manage those relationships, Chamorro-Premuzic offers four evidence-based tips to keeping your cool:

1. Respond with kindness: "Just because someone is unpleasant doesn't mean you have to respond with unpleasantness or ostracize them," writes Chamorro-Premuzic. Instead, he says, act as a "stabilizing and calming agent" for that person by making an effort to act politely and positively around him or her. Having a lower EQ can be "psychologically taxing" for low EQ individuals themselves, and, as a result, they tend to see people who react negatively toward them as a "source of stress."

According to Chamoro-Premuzic, the best way to work together is to "brighten them up and make their lives seem a little simpler, safer, and happier, or at least less anxious."

2.  Avoid "social subtleties": According to Chamorro-Pemuzic, individuals with low EQ often misinterpret social nuances and are "less capable of reading between the lines." They are also happiest when they are alone and do not have to interact with others. So, when interacting with lower EQ individuals, make sure to be explicit about your wishes and desires, rather than simply hoping they will understand your intentions. 

3. Stay rational: By asserting yourself as the "voice of reason and developing a reputation for being logical," you will be able to build your sphere of influence with that person and gain their trust.

4. Do not get offended: Because bluntness is a common characteristic of people with low EQ, it can be easy to interpret their directness as offensive. But, says Chamorro-Premuzic, instead of taking things personally, you should use their honesty as an asset—understanding that "that they tend to mean what they say, and say what they mean."

Overall, Chamorro-Premuzic notes that it's important to remember that despite perceived flaws, lower EQ individuals still have a lot to offer. They tend to be "more passionate, creative, and self-critical than their higher EQ counterparts," and a person's EQ does not determine his or her "reasoning ability, expertise, or ambition."

He concludes that knowing how regulate your emotions in relation to career success, job performance, entrepreneurship, and leadership" is vital to maintaining good workplace relationships and a healthy environment (Chamorro-Premuzic, Harvard Business Review, 5/26).

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

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