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If you’ve ever worked in an office, you’ve encountered some difficult personalities. Even in the loveliest work environments, someone makes life difficult from time to time.

In your relationship with yourself, you are that problem coworker.

Practice being fair to yourself

Let’s face it, you do find yourself difficult to work with, don’t you?

The trouble is, we tend to hold ourselves to a different standard than our troublesome officemate. We beat ourselves up over mistakes, we scrutinize awkward conversations long after others have forgotten them, and we constantly remind ourselves of how we should be different — and better.

If you thought and felt this way about everyone around you who wasn’t perfect, you’d drive yourself crazy. And, though we’ve all wasted energy stewing over a tense working relationship at some point, most of the time we say “that’s just how he/she is.” Our approach to professional interactions can provide some important wisdom.

Accept, strategize, and move on

Despite my relatively poor social skills, I often felt I had an easier time working with my office’s difficult personalities. When it’s your job to collect important human resources documents or present a new health care plan, impasse isn’t an option. The work simply must get done correctly and on time.

How did I do it? By accepting people as they were and creating strategies to give them what they needed from our interactions. If someone managed email exceptionally poorly, sending email reminders would lead to strife and missed deadlines. If a colleague couldn’t stand being interrupted, I wouldn’t get anywhere by approaching her at her desk to discuss her incomplete timesheets — even if that was the method preferred by the office culture.

I learned how people operated, how they saw things, and what their priorities were, and I worked from there. The people weren’t going to change, no matter how much I berated them or set them up for negative consequences. The best thing to do was create a strategy for working with them.

Then, I moved on. I didn’t waste my time or energy complaining — aloud or to others — about how problem coworkers could stand to improve. If I stumbled in my dealings with them, I refined my strategy and kept going.

Developing a long-term working relationship

Would our lives be different if we remembered more, got distracted less, exercised better judgement, managed our calendars more effectively? Sure. Are we likely to start making these dramatic improvements tomorrow? Certainly not.

When things go wrong, don’t assume it’s because you just need to “get yourself together” or “learn how to manage that type of situation better.” That rarely leads to anything but negative self-talk, and it deprives you of the opportunity to figure out how to do better next time.

Instead of beating yourself up for not being perfect, figure out what went wrong. Learn what situations trigger your temper and irrational behavior. Learn whether you communicate best via email, text message, phone, or face-to-face conversations. Learn when you’re most likely to overindulge in sweets. When you know what steers you toward trouble, you can figure out how to keep yourself from getting there.

For my coworkers, sometimes it was as simple as catching someone by the coffee maker and talking through what felt to them like an impersonal, tedious process. For myself, sometimes it’s as simple as putting a pad of sticky notes in my glove box so I quit forgetting important things between the car and the front door.

Whatever you do, don’t write yourself off. You still have to work with yourself tomorrow. You’d be smart to make the best of it.

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