How to Keep Coworker Conflict from Colliding With Your Paralegal Career Goals

 I work at a law firm, and one of my coworkers is driving me up the wall. He’s argumentative about small things and a huge gossip. He seems to thrive on conflict, which makes for a stressful work environment. Any tips on how to deal with him?

Annoying coworkers can be more than a nuisance. They can bring down morale and productivity, particularly in the fast-paced legal field. Obviously, something is causing your colleague to pick fights. But you aren’t a psychologist, and figuring out why he’s acting this way isn’t your job. However, simply ignoring him won’t solve the issue. On the contrary, your resentment will likely just build, potentially leading to a confrontation or the inclination to take a sick day. Inter-office stress can even hold back your own paralegal career. So, try these tips for dealing with conflict in the workplace.

  1. Talk face to face.Avoid a passive-aggressive response, which won’t help you nor improve your coworker’s behavior. Sending an email may be similarly ineffective, as meaning in writing is subjective and he may misinterpret your intentions, or worse, never read your note in the first place. A face-to-face conversation with your coworker about his behavior may be intimidating and awkward, but it’s your best bet and your colleague is likely to take your words to heart if you bring up the issue in person, calmly and professionally.
  2. Take it one step at a time.Don’t expect him to change his behavior with one conversation. Start small. Next time he snaps at you for not returning his stapler, calmly apologize and ask if everything’s okay. By subtly pointing out that he overreacted, you’ll encourage him to think twice next time something small irritates him.
  3. Avoid discussing his behavior with other coworkers.It can be tempting to indulge ingossip with your fellow paralegals about the guy everyone loves to hate, but this will only encourage more conflict. Additionally, you may unknowingly make others uncomfortable if they feel like they need to “choose sides.” Stick to positive conversations, which will make for a more productive office environment. Your paralegal career will also benefit if coworkers see you as a peacemaker instead of a gossipmonger.
  4. Choose the right moment.Don’t wait until the next heated argument to bring up all of your coworker’s annoying habits. Instead, take some time to cool off, and pick a neutral moment for a face-to-face. But don’t wait too long, or he may wonder why you’re fixating on an incident he’s already forgotten.
  5. Consider his perspective.Jumping to conclusions rarely leads to anything good. If this person thrives on conflict, there may be a private reason you’re unaware of. Practice active listening and try to empathize.
  6. Ask him for a solution.This is one of the best ways to handle a conflict on the spot. The next time he complains or goad you into an argument, calmly ask him what he thinks needs to be done to resolve the issue. By showing him you value his opinions, you’ll likely diffuse his temper — and hopefully be on the way to a lasting resolution.
  7. Ask for help. If your attempts at dealing with the situation aren’t working, notify your supervisor. Be sure to explain how it’s having a negative impact on your legal team’s productivity, if that’s truly the case. For more serious issues such as harassment, follow your firm’s human resources policy to report the incident.

During your paralegal career, conflict with a coworker is bound to happen at some point. An honest, calm discussion will usually help set you both on the path to mutual understanding.