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How to flip the script on your office nemesis

Take control of people in your workplace who drive you nuts

Yvan Dion, a workplace coach and certified conflict mediator from Chelsea, Quebec, has been resisting judgements since 2001. “The minute I start evaluating who’s wrong, I become biased,” he says. The same is true of all workers, especially you, so there’s no wonder that a certain someone—“everyone has someone,” laughs Dion—gets right under your skin every time. So how do you take control and turn that conversation from irritating to productive and outsmart your nemesis once and for all (ok, we’d settle for most of the time)? We asked Dion for some much much-needed tricks to flip the script.

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Step 1: Consider your Objective

Long before you bump into you-know-who at the meeting or water cooler, take a minute to remind yourself of why you’re here, suggests Dion. “Ask yourself, what do you want to accomplish in this relationship?” Your logical brain will probably not say “spite” or “revenge”—go instead with completing the project, maintaining a good workplace environment or even learning from bad behaviour. If and when things get passive aggressive, pull your reptilian fight-or-flight response back towards the smarter neocortex by keeping your objective clear and eye on what really matters.

Step 2: Tap into Feelings

“Emotional intelligence has three parts,” says Dion. “The first is identifying your emotions, the second is managing those emotions and the last is identifying the other person’s emotions.” Step one’s pretty easy, we’re working on two right now, but step three is key here. A novel solution if you’re straight-up clueless? Just ask. “Keep it general but genuine, something like, “you seem upset, are you?” Sometimes just opening the dialogue will let someone unload anything pent up and feel heard.

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Step 3: Choose Empathy, not Sympathy

So now you know if they are angry, resentful or frustrated—then what? Wise up like a doctor and embrace empathy but not sympathy. “They are not the same thing,” says Dion. “Empathy is knowing what the other person is feeling but—and this is a big but—knowing it’s not yours.” Don’t let their negativity automatically become yours too. “If you end up in sympathy instead, you’ve lost control.”

Step 4: Know your Triggers

How to keep your cool? “Know your own triggers,” says Dion. Especially since your nemesis knows them for sure, know your own weak points that land you in a fight-or-flight overreaction. Maybe it’s when someone tells you to do your job, or when someone interrupts you mid-sentence, or if someone else’s procrastination hinders yours productivity. “If you know exactly what triggers you, you’ll recognize the triggers when they pop up and be more likely to deal with them.”

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Step 5: Take Responsibility

Finally, a sobering thought about that lazy, selfish, A-hole colleague who drives you nuts: “Guess who the nemesis of your nemesis is? It’s you.” (Disagree entirely? Then you’re definitely guilty.) “Have an honest look about your contribution to this,” suggest Dion. Re-direct your rage from the person to the situation. “It’s not really the nemesis, it’s your relationship with the nemesis.” You’re half responsible by definition, so take responsibility—and control too—by admitting your part. “Is there something you did or did not do? What are the internal dialogues you’re telling yourself?” Start there, look inward, and realize that maybe your nemesis isn’t the evil genius they seem.