How to Deal With a Difficult Coworker

It’s not always easy to get along with some people, especially in a workplace setting.

However, according to career and communications experts, there are several ways to deal with difficult coworkers and keep the peace in your office.

Here are their insights:

Brett Lavender

Brett Lavender

Communications Expert | Founder, The Persuasive Lion

Think before you react and take responsibility for controlling your behavior when communicating

Coworkers are just human beings. Human beings are mammals. It truly is as simple as that. In the natural world, outside of humanity, mammals, although very similar in many ways, are fundamentally extremely different.

Yes, of course, we are all humans and should all be considered equal. We are, however, very different in many ways. We come from very different backgrounds and upbringing, culturally, spiritually, religiously, educationally, mentally, physically, financially, etc.

As humans, in this very “unnatural setting,” we are forced to communicate with very different types of mammals that we may consider “difficult.” Therefore, it only makes sense that we all think about, deliver, and respond to various forms of communication differently (both positively and negatively), based on our unique circumstances and the circumstances of those we interact with.

When dealing with a “difficult coworker,” we must first identify what type of human we are working with.

  • What makes them tick?
  • What are their triggers?
  • How do they respond to confrontation, compliments, criticism, daily life, etc.?

Communicate in a way that will attempt to avoid conflict

When dealing with and attempting to resolve conflict with what we might consider to be a “difficult coworker,” it is very important to shoulder the responsibility of identifying and communicating with that individual in a way that will attempt to avoid conflict and speak their language.

Related: The 28 Best Books on Communication Skills

Also, find common ground that will connect you with a different type of person that will create trust, respect, and a mutually beneficial outcome that might have otherwise gone very bad.

Control the “temperature” of the conversation

As an effective communicator in the workplace and your personal relationships, it is always my suggestion to hold yourself accountable for controlling the “temperature” of the conversation.

A major factor in dealing with difficult coworkers is setting and controlling the tone for the interaction and making sure that the conversation remains as non-confrontational as possible. This is not always easy when communicating with someone illogical or prone to unnecessary outbursts when not getting their way.

The good news is that this is controllable.

Often, it is as simple as remaining calm and composed. Using a controlled, non-aggressive tone and melody to your voice, making direct eye contact, and delivering body language and facial expressions that allow your coworker to understand that while you may not be in agreement at the moment, you intend to hear their point, have them understand yours, and arrive at a mutually agreeable outcome.

Understand the timing and location of your interaction

Another important factor when dealing with someone who we see as difficult is understanding the timing and location of your interaction.

If you pick and choose your battles efficiently, you will always have a much better outcome when addressing someone who is not capable of dealing with disagreement in a rational way.

Engaging in a heated moment will rarely achieve your desired outcome

It is way more effective to utilize these communication skills during moments of peace. Engaging a confrontational coworker in a heated moment, especially in front of others, will rarely achieve your desired outcome.

It is the same as adding fuel to the fire that you are attempting to control or extinguish. It is counterproductive in every way.

You’re way better off waiting for an opportunity when this individual is not being “difficult,” taking them aside, and communicating your thoughts in a non-confrontational way that supports their perspective while offering your own as a reasonable alternative.

These communication skills that I’m offering require an enormous amount of:

  • Self-control
  • Self-awareness
  • Empathy
  • Understanding the “difficult coworkers” perspective (as illegitimate as you may assume it to be)
  • Patience
  • Practice

It requires that you step outside of the circumstance and look inward from a bird’s eye view to fully process why this person acts out as they do. Are they difficult with everyone or just you? Do they perceive you to be difficult as well?

Often, these challenging relationships can be resolved by taking the time to listen, assess, process, and react in a way that may allow your opponent to become your ally within the confines of a brief, effective, open conversation.

Think before you react, identify and process before you judge, and most importantly, take responsibility for controlling your behavior when communicating with other types of human species that may think, act, or behave differently than you.

Remember: The mind is your instrument; learn to be its master and not its slave. True victory is victory over oneself.

If you adhere to this philosophy, you can transform difficult coworkers into friends, allies, and supporters on your terms and diffuse unnecessary conflict at will.

Cory Colton

Cory Colton

Principal Executive Coach, Inflection Point Coaching, LLC

Issues with difficult colleagues must be addressed head-on

There will always be one or two colleagues with whom you have difficult interactions; it only makes sense when we collaborate in teams or workgroups where diversity of thought, background, age, gender, and culture are valued.

In order to collaborate effectively on business goals and solutions, we expect there to be some purposeful intellectual friction—the interplay of ideas that creates deep discussion and better outcomes. In fact, a strong leader will welcome this.

Related: 24 Best Leadership Books of All Time

However, when difficult colleague interactions are more personal than purposeful—meaning the difficulty is focused on emotional or social friction, avoiding addressing the issue will only cause it to get worse.

Difficult colleague interactions don’t only affect the individuals involved; the resulting tension can disrupt teams and negatively impact the business in general.

As someone who prefers to avoid conflict, I heartily recommend that issues with difficult colleagues be addressed head-on. Honesty and curiosity are paramount in hoping to resolve this conflict. In my work coaching and developing leaders, this is a frequent topic of discussion.

Here are some tips:

  • Schedule time to discuss the difficulty — It is easy for us to avoid addressing issues with a difficult colleague, hoping that over time the issue will go away or become less troublesome. However, I have found that the difficult issue remains if not addressed and will resurface from time to time in periods of stress or change. Scheduling time on the calendar with that colleague will help both of you understand that the issue is valuable and deserves your time.
  • Name the issue — Clearly naming the issue you are experiencing will help with clarity on what both of you can do to solve the issue.
    • Is it a trust issue? Then clearly say something like, “I am having a problem with trusting you.”
    • If it is more an issue of clashing styles, you might open with, “I know we have some differences in how we approach things, and that is causing me to feel _ in meetings or discussions.”
    • If the issue is more about back-channeling or creating drama, you might open with, “Sometimes I feel as if you have opinions about our work that you want to share, but instead of coming to me directly, I hear about it from my team.”
  • Be specific — Once you have named the issue, give a specific example. General statements about how you feel without specific behavioral examples to support them can be perceived as accusatory. It is harder to resolve an issue with a difficult colleague if they can refute your feelings. Specific examples offer them something to respond to.
  • Stay on your side of the fence — When possible, try to use “I” language rather than “you” language. “You” language can be experienced as accusatory. Staying on your side of the fence, describing how you felt about the interaction or how it impacted you, is cleaner. It is also more difficult for someone to argue against your feelings or experience.
  • Use curiosity to understand their side of the issue — Once you have named the issue opens up the conversation with curiosity. Ask them open-ended questions to continue the conversation, such as:
    • “What has been your experience of our interactions?”
    • “Can you help me understand what was happening in that situation? Maybe there is something I don’t understand?”
  • Create a mutual plan to move forward — Once you have explored the issue between you to satisfaction, keep the conversation open by inquiring how you can solve it together. If there is a path forward, what do both of you commit to doing to improve the situation going forward. If there is a less clear path ahead, what boundaries or respectful interactions do you both commit to in order to reduce friction going forward?

Jennifer Hancock

Jennifer Hancock

Author | Owner and Director, Humanist Learning Systems

Treat them with dignity, compassion, and professionalism

I take a humanistic approach to this, meaning I treat them with dignity, compassion, and professionalism. I may not know why they are being difficult, but I know that me being difficult back at them isn’t going to help them or help me solve our problems.

It is very easy to write off a difficult co-worker as a problem. But that is a mistake. Not only is it not professional, but it also creates tensions where there doesn’t need to be any.

I am often hired by companies who want me to help them deal with a difficult colleague.

I usually know who the “difficult” person is before I go in. I almost always find the person labeled difficult to be a nice person who is trying their best, but they are very defensive and often feel like everyone is out to get them. And, honestly, they aren’t wrong.

Their colleagues have decided they are difficult and treat them accordingly. This creates a vicious cycle that needs to be broken for the good of the individuals and for the organization.

On rare occasions, the difficult person really is difficult and may need to be let go. But until you treat them with dignity, compassion, and professionalism, it is a mistake to jump to that conclusion.

Dignity

Everyone has dignity. However, we don’t always act with dignity. To make sure that you are not the cause of someone else’s negative behavior, be sure that you act with dignity.

This doesn’t mean you should act aloof or like you are better than anyone else. It means that you recognize the common humanity you share with your colleagues, and you actively treat other people with dignity.

When I find myself getting annoyed by a colleague, if I can take a step back away from my annoyance or hurt, and think about them, not as a bad person, but as a well-meaning person, I can often reframe the problem or conflict and re-engage with them.

I am honest that whatever happened was not ok with me, but I assume they meant no harm.

This often turns what could escalate to full-on conflict into a learning and growing experience and helps me and my colleagues actually learn how to work together better. Sharing and acknowledging our common humanity with dignity helps build trust, which in turn makes all future problems easier to resolve.

They know that I am not a threat to them, so work with me instead of against me.

Compassion

People are not always at their best. Everyone you meet is dealing with their own problems. Usually, their problems have nothing to do with you.
If a colleague is not behaving optimally, instead of assuming there is something wrong with them, consider thinking of them compassionately.

Maybe something is not wrong with them, but rather, they are dealing with something that is wrong in their life that you know nothing about.

When you think of your colleagues with compassion, it means you think of them as full human beings with full lives that may include children, sick parents, or other issues outside of the workplace that are impacting their mental health. It helps no one to treat someone who is dealing with difficulties in their life as if they are a problem.

When you make space for the fallible human, you take the pressure off of them to be perfect in every way. No one is perfect in every way. If someone is going through a hard time, the compassionate response is to support them through it.

I realize this can lead to compassion fatigue. There are people who thrive on problems. Everything has drama. It is very hard to be sympathetic to someone who constantly has crisis in their lives. But treating them with compassion doesn’t mean you have to indulge every single problem.

It means accepting them as who they are and not demanding that they be someone else for you. Some people truly have a run of bad luck. Others just – like the attention they get from being in constant crisis. Either way, treat them with compassion and don’t add to their problems.

I had a friend who was constantly in crisis. Whenever she would start talking to me about the latest, I would nod and say, that’s horrible and then I would redirect to the work that needed to be done. I was never mean to her. I didn’t demean her for her problems. I treated her with dignity and compassion, and that was enough to redirect to actual work.

Professionalism

If other people in the workplace have drama going on, there is no rule that says I have to take part in their drama. I don’t have to take sides. I can simply refocus on the work while treating everyone with dignity and compassion.

If someone is incapable of doing their work, that is their problem. If they are actively or inadvertently preventing work from being done, I document my conversations with them and try to create clarity. I ask what support they need to get their part of it done. And then, I work towards helping to make sure they have what they need.

Being professional is about how you decide to act. If others act unprofessionally, that is about them. You are professional if you behave professionally. If you think about people you think of as being professional, it’s not that they are famous or uptight.

It means that when a problem occurs, they respond to that problem with dignity and compassion and then start working through the problem treating everyone, including people who are very difficult, with dignity and compassion.

Example of dignity, compassion, and professionalism in action

My favorite example of this was a car rental clerk I once watched deal with a man yelling at him. The man had had to rent a car for over a month while his car was – apparently not getting fixed by a repair shop.

His real anger was at the repair shop, but he was taking his anger out on the car rental clerk. The rental clerk was filling out the paperwork to renew the car rental while this customer yelled at him that this paperwork was even necessary.

At no point did the clerk yell back; he just listened and did his work. When he needed the angry man to sign something, he asked him to sign it and allowed the man to continue ranting. He would occasionally tell the man – I’m sorry, but I need you to sign this.

I have never witnessed someone under that much stress handle something with that much dignity and compassion before, and it was truly inspiring.

When it was all over, and it was my turn, I congratulated the clerk on how he handled the situation. His response? Well, the guy was going through a tough time, and the best thing I could do for him was to help him re-rent the car he needed.

It was as simple as that. That’s what professionalism is—responding to difficult people with dignity and compassion and getting the job done despite it all.

Bina Patel, PhD

Bina Patel

Conflict Resolution and Organizational Health Specialist, Transformational Paradigms

Dealing with a difficult coworker is not only challenging, but it’s also emotionally draining. Not only do they suck the energy out of you and more, but they also don’t care to be difficult.

Most difficult employees are black and white thinkers. They do not operate in the gray areas, and so they lack empathy and consideration for others. It is just about them. At the end of the day, no one wants to do deal with them. As a result, they continue to get promoted.

Here is my advice:

Set your boundaries by responding and not reacting

As a peer, set your boundaries with a difficult colleague. This should be done as a best practice. Set your boundaries by responding and not reacting. You are not a problem, and their problem is not your problem. If you try to help a difficult colleague see rationality, you are taking on their issue as your own.

This in itself will leave you feeling drained, upset, and angry. Rather, they will be content and continue on their way. So first, your problem is not their problem.

If their behavior continues with difficulty, speak to your manager to mediate the issue

Second, say no to the bad. When the individual is willing to listen and communicate, then you will take the time to speak to them in a rational manner. If your manager asks that you work with this difficult colleague, your boundaries should include only working on work-related matters.

Discussions should not go outside this box.

Also, follow everything up email and brief your manager on a daily basis. This way, your manager is in the know. If their behavior continues with difficulty and you cannot see eye to eye or come to a mutual understanding, then speak to your manager to mediate the issue.

When the mission is impacted because of challenging personalities, this issue now becomes your boss’ issue. But before you do this, take the time to understand the difficult coworker’s side and stance. Put yourself in their shoes to understand their thought process, and ask them to do the same. If all else fails, contact your manager.

Hold yourself accountable for wanting to deal with this person

Finally, hold yourself accountable for wanting to deal with this person. While you may be forced to work with them on a project, you state your concerns with your boss upfront. Your attitudes and how you feel towards that person is a reflection of your belief, which is a reflection of your past experience with them.

Keep your behavior professional and objective. Remember, we all have bad days and troubles outside of work at one point in our lives or others. This person may have similar issues.

If they are just being difficult, find a way to connect with them that is work-related. Keep everything to a limit and professional. Stick to work-related topics only!

Continue to work with your personal values of fairness, integrity, and transparency. If your difficult coworker crosses this line, you know that you have a choice. This choice should be communicated with your manager.

Steven McConnell

Steven McConnell

Managing Director, Exceptional Resumes

How you handle difficult co-workers depends on what kind of work personalities they have

Here’s how you go about it:

If you’re dealing with a slacker

Ask yourself if this person’s behavior is affecting you directly. If it’s not, then it’s not supposed to be an issue, no matter how much he slacks in the office. But if he’s hurting your quality of work or your performance, then you must do something about it.

Approach him directly but professionally, and then tell him how his behavior is directly affecting you. On top of this, make sure that everyone on the team is held accountable for their share of work. If this approach doesn’t work, let your manager handle the situation.

If you’re dealing with the office gossip

Rumor-mongering can damage the organization and propagate resentment and antagonism in the workplace atmosphere.

If an office gossip tries to engage you in such conversations, excuse yourself and say that you’re not feeling comfortable talking about co-workers behind their backs. You can also try to change the topic to avoid gossiping.

If you’re dealing with a scene-stealer

People who take credit for the work of others are some of the most infuriating ones in the workplace. Deal with this by keeping a record of your accomplishments and updating your manager regularly on the progress of your work.

Tooting your own horn never hurts, too – you got to take charge and shamelessly take credit for everything you do. Because if you don’t, somebody else will.

If you’re dealing with a know-it-all

Nobody likes people who are generally controlling by monopolizing conversations and dismissing the input of others. The most effective to deal with a know-it-all is to treat him as an ally.

Related: How to Deal with Controlling People?

Try asking his advice on a challenging work issue. This is a way to show him that you want to establish a positive working relationship.

If this doesn’t work and his behavior is affecting your work, Plan B is to engage him in a one-on-one conversation and let him express himself. Sometimes these people have no idea of the effect of their behavior on the people around them.

David Bitton

David Bitton

Co-Founder and CMO, DoorLoop

Communicate the problems you’re having with them with empathy

The coworker you’re having trouble working with may woefully be oblivious that they’re doing something that irritates you or makes it difficult for you to focus on your work.

It is critical to word what is bothering you carefully and empathically to avoid further conflict when speaking to them. Also, always keep an open mind during the talk and look for nonverbal cues to determine how the other person is feeling.

Recognize your triggers

Take some time to consider which of their behaviors you find the most difficult to deal with. After you’ve given it some thought, you can promptly withdraw yourself from the situation if they begin to display those behaviors.

Have an exit strategy in place so you can leave the situation as painlessly as possible. Whether it’s making up a phone call or making an excuse that you have deliverables due shortly, this allows you to remain calm and spend as little time as possible with the difficult coworker.

Maintain your neutrality and refrain from airing your problems with other coworkers

Don’t get lured into unprofessional behavior because of their actions. By voicing your grievances to another colleague, you effectively engage in workplace gossip, which is detrimental to workplace harmony.

It is critical that you maintain a professional attitude at all times. You can contribute to a positive work atmosphere by doing so. If the behavior starts to cause any problems, speak with an HR representative or your manager.

Speak with your supervisor or an HR representative

If your coworker’s behavior begins to escalate or has a detrimental impact on your work, bring it to the attention of a higher-up.

In some circumstances, it’s simply difficult to handle the problem on your own, so ask your boss or an HR representative to step in and help. It’s helpful to have documented this person’s negative actions that prompted you to report them so you verify what they’ve been doing and how it’s impacted you.

Debra Roberts, LCSW

Debra Roberts

Conversation Expert | Creator, The Relationship Protocol

While you cannot control your difficult coworker, you can control yourself and your reaction

There are many kinds of difficult coworkers, from complainers and gossipers to exhibiting rude behavior and more. However, for the most part, there are two ways to handle a problematic coworker effectively.

If they had a negative reaction to something you said or did, and you want to talk to them about it, be sincere and approach with curiosity. You can say, “I wanted to check in with you. Are you upset about something that happened during the meeting earlier?”

Then listen to their answer and remain calm, regardless of their response.

While you cannot control your difficult coworker, you can control yourself and your reaction. So, decide ahead of time to stay composed regardless of their answer to your question. If they say that you upset them, do not get defensive and snap back with a quick retort.

Instead, you can respond by saying, “That was not my intention” or “I’m sorry, that wasn’t my intention.”

When we take ownership, even if our behavior was unintentional, the person feels heard and acknowledged. This way, you were respectful, addressed the issue, and sought a positive resolution.

Also, remember, this is a work-related relationship. You do not have to seek a resolution if that’s not important to you. And you do not have to become friends with or even like this person. These kinds of relationships are more practical and functionally based, and many are limited in scope. If you can, keep your distance wherever possible and don’t personalize their reactions.

If you follow these tips, you’re taking care of yourself first, which is the best way to handle a difficult coworker.

Josie Caton

Josie Caton

Lead Facilitator and Founder, Summit Perspectives

Use an integrated approach

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to dealing with a difficult coworker. Instead, look to incorporate tactics from a variety of perspectives starting with yourself, then include the relationship, the work that you do, and even the systems surrounding how you relate.

Find a way to take a pause and gain perspective

If your coworker triggers you at the moment, find a way to take a pause and gain perspective.

If you actively practice mindfulness, find grounding in your own breath. Alternatively, if you find your emotions taking you over, look to gain fresh air. Step outside or physically remove yourself from the situation for a few moments.

As hard as it may be to hear, things often trigger us because we know them well. So well, we might actually do these things ourselves.

Is there a specific behavior to which you can point a finger? If so, what might be the three fingers pointing back at you? For example:

  • Does your coworker not honor your time? How do you fail to honor your own time and that of the people around you?
  • Insecurities often squeeze out sideways; how might your own insecurities be manifesting as behaviors that irritate others?

What do you need to do to change your own behavior to invite change in others?

Invest in the relationship

Build rapport. Look for opportunities to be of service and offer gratitude and admiration. Seek to connect. Consider working on a small defined project together where you can both be successful, then honor that success.

Set and honor boundaries. Remember that to be clear is to be kind. If you have to draw a hard line, be sure to continue to offer rapport.

Related: How to Deal With Someone Who Doesn’t Respect Boundaries

Work through conflict. Consider enlisting the help of a skilled mediator or facilitator to help create a supportive environment. Conflict is often a masked opportunity.

Prioritize work

At the end of the day, you are sharing space-however physically or virtually- to get work done.

Be aware that what’s driving your coworker’s difficult tendencies may be heightened by the structure and culture of your workplace. If you’re in a position to do so, inquire with your team’s leadership if there is energy to hone team processes and culture.

  • What platforms does your team use to communicate? While in-person communication is usually best, there are many options beyond just email for times when that’s not an option.
  • How is your team’s feedback structure set up? Is there a way to productively offer feedback that meets that person where they are? Is there room to improve that process?
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities on your team. It’s possible that your coworker may be struggling to stay in their lane because the lanes aren’t clear (or perhaps aren’t clear to them).
  • Make sure your team is aligned on vision, mission, and values.

Ultimately, an integrated approach may take more up-front work but can also offer hope for lasting change.

Larry Sternberg, JD

Larry Sternberg

Fellow and Board Member, Talent Plus, Inc | Co-Author, “Managing to Make A Difference

None of these suggestions is easy to do. But they really work.

Seek to understand

Ask the person why they acted as they did and really listen. Very often, you’ll find out that your assumptions about their motives are mistaken. Once you understand their point of view, you are in a better position to choose constructive responses.

Let go of your need to right

Being right is highly overrated. If someone believes you have wronged them, look at the situation from their point of view. Even if you don’t agree that you’ve wronged them, apologize.

That’s letting go of your need to be right. Demonstrate that you care more about your relationship than about being right.

Choose a response that demonstrates trust

Ask yourself this: “If a close friend of mine treated me the way this person has treated me, how would I respond to that friend?” Choose that behavior, even if it doesn’t feel good to you. That response builds trust, which contributes to conflict resolution.

Anna Berkolec

Anna Berkolec

Recruiter, ResumeLab

Let the co-worker know that you won’t tolerate them being unnecessarily difficult to you

There are several ways of dealing with a difficult co-worker, but there is probably only one effective one that will put them on notice while remaining polite.

I am talking, of course, about assertiveness.

Having your boundaries be respected and not crossed is key. Thus, it’s imperative that you stand up for yourself, let the co-worker know that you won’t tolerate them being unnecessarily difficult to you while at the same time extending a welcoming offer to find common ground and ways of collaborating.

Transcending the desire to be either aggressive or passive, it’s all about finding the golden mean. In other words, they have the right to be and act however they desire. However, when that infringes upon your boundaries, that is where you say a stern – “Stop, you’re trying to pass, and I won’t let you.”

There are great guides online regarding assertive interpersonal communication. In short, it’s all about communicating your needs while respecting those of the other person.

Starting statements with “I…” vs. “you (are)…” also is a huge plus that almost immediately leads to better outcomes and improvement of relations.

Finally, steering clear of any gossip and/or any punches under the belt is also highly advised. At the end of the day, you want to show class and integrity. That takes hard work but is well worth it.

Jordan W. Peagler, Esq.

Jordan Peagler

Founder and Partner, MKP Law Group

Don’t take it personally

I know this is easier said than done. But chances are, that coworker is difficult around everyone, not just you. If you realize this, it might not get under your skin quite so much. They may not even realize they’re being difficult.

It’s sometimes much easier to accept someone’s shortcomings when they’re unintentional rather than on purpose.

Have a conversation about it

You can go directly to the source and ask if there is something you can do differently to have a better outcome. Or you can go to a trusted friend or mentor in the workplace and ask for their advice. Try not to frame the situation as them being wrong and you being right.

Rather, approach it as a question: How can this working relationship be improved?

Minimize contact with them

That coworker might always be difficult, no matter what you do. That’s when it can pay to avoid them as much as possible for your own mental health. You can ask the boss or your manager to assign you to projects with them as little as possible. You can avoid taking your lunch when they are if you share the same break room.

Grant Aldrich

Grant Aldrich

Founder & CEO, Online Degree

Own your own opinions and learn how to voice them

It doesn’t matter if you’re the top management, a supervisor, or a team member; you should understand your own opinion and know how to communicate that.

You will first have to know yourself to know your opinions. Know how to receive other opinions openly, then present your input. You will only be able to communicate clearly when you fully understand where you stand yourself.

Know when a battle is not worth it

Once you know yourself, you know where your priorities lie. If a situation arrives that you don’t necessarily agree with, but is not a priority to you, let it go.

Understand the difference between knowing when an idea is detrimental or if the voice of the idea is what is the turn off. Don’t waste any time on meaningless disagreements.

Create your own positive support system

It can be easy to let yourself get brought down into a negative mindset when there is a coworker you don’t get along with. Make sure you’re taking time to surround yourself with people who do help you re-align.

The more at peace you are, the less conflict will be an issue.

Martin Luenendonk

Martin Luenendonk

Chief Executive Officer, FounderJar

Take this issue to a supervisor if your coworker actively breaks policies or harms you

Despite doing all you can to get along with everyone, there is always a chance that a colleague will make things difficult for you. Dealing with difficult clients, bosses, and coworkers is all part of the learning process.

Based on my experience, dealing with difficult people builds character and a skill worth honing. While it’s not a requirement for you to like them, deal with them professionally.

  • Examine your behavior. In most cases, we tend to label people we don’t like as difficult. You may find your coworker difficult due to your prejudices or preconceived notions of your coworker. It may be a good idea for you to get to know them and see things from their perspective. Although you deserve respect, examine your behavior and try to see if you were offensive or disrespectful. Their adverse reaction to you may be a response to your previous actions.
  • Don’t take it personally. Despite your best intentions, you may realize that you and your coworker won’t get along. As long as they are not jeopardizing your job security and health, learn to accept their personality. Focus on your work, and build positive relationships with people you enjoy being around. Avoid bringing personal issues into the workplace.
  • Talk to a supervisor. Take this issue to a supervisor if your coworker actively breaks policies or harms you. Document their behavior so that you’ll have proof. Your supervisor or HR should be able to address this issue and enable you to work safely.

Pamela Gail Johnson

Pamela Gail Johnson

Speaker | Author | Practical Happiness Advocate

Set practical expectations

Often we incorrectly think or hope that we can win a difficult coworker over, and each difficult coworker’s situation is different. The first step in dealing with a difficult coworker is setting realistic expectations. Some people are happiest being chronically cranky.

Then we need to assess how much we need to interact with that person. If they are someone we need their input to do our jobs well, we’ll have to interact with them more. If they don’t really impact our jobs, we can have fewer interactions with them.

If we need them to be successful at work, we need to treat them like an ally.

If that’s the case, open up your lines of communication. Maybe ask them for coffee or lunch. Sometimes having a conversation away from work can help open up the communication lines. It’s not about creating a friend but better understanding them as a person or what they need from you as a coworker to make your job easier.

When we expect the worst from someone, we often get the worst. However, when we take a practical approach by setting realistic expectations about a coworker and our relationship with them, we often find that they move from a difficult coworker to a workplace ally.

Adam Fard

Adam Fard

Founder & Head Of Design, Adam Fard’ UX Agency

Maintain boundaries when dealing with difficult employees

Assertive individuals accept accountability for their actions. When they encounter an incident in which such limits are violated by a coworker, they absolve themselves of responsibility for that coworker’s behavior.

They have set boundaries and will not tolerate anyone abusing them.

This individual is aware of how to employ the “I” vs. “you” statements discussed previously. Furthermore, unfavorable coworkers quickly realize that they cannot force an outspoken individual to do what they want. Known, unambiguous boundaries eliminate the possibility of dispute.

When confronted by a challenging coworker, it’s natural to react defensively. Rather than that, you want to attempt to comprehend their motivations. What do they require that they do not receive? Perhaps they are seeking recognition or acknowledgment.

Rather than focusing on how you can retaliate against this person, consider how you can create a win-win situation.

Lauren Cook-McKay

Lauren Cook-McKay

Director of Marketing & Content, Divorce Answers

Develop a plan of exit

Having an excuse to avoid a tough coworker can be beneficial. Whether you fabricate a phone call you need to make, work you need to complete immediately, or another reason, spend as little time as possible with the unpleasant coworker. When individuals feel they are not being heard, they give up.

Maintain confidentiality regarding your coworker’s issue

You do not want your character to be called into question, so keep your composure when confronted by a difficult coworker.

Whining to people at work may result in you being labeled as a problem yourself, so limit your complaining to members of your family or a close friend outside of work. Taking your grievances public is always a bad choice.

Strive to be bigger than your coworker

You’re probably familiar with the proverb, “Honey attracts more flies than vinegar.” This is also true for coworkers.

This does not require you to come in with a new joke every day or to be the one who plans birthday parties. However, even being friendly, smiling, and kind to another person can boost their attitude toward you.

Haley Perlus, Ph.D.

Haley Perlus

Sports and Performance Psychologist

When dealing with a difficult coworker, it’s always important to keep in mind that you are in a professional setting, and it’s only necessary to intervene if they affect your productivity.

Make sure to focus on their behavior rather than making it too personal

You may want to know if their behavior is intentional or not and work from there to either remedy the situation or talk it out. Depending on the type of coworker you’re dealing with, whether they take credit for your work or give you a hard time, you never know what may be the underlying reason for their behavior.

Sometimes external issues can affect the way some treat others, and more often than not, they don’t even notice a shift in their attitude.

If someone is complaining too much and is stalling progress, you can redirect their perspective or change the subject while encouraging them to better their circumstances. There’s always a possibility that your coworker doesn’t mean to come off rude or condescending and doesn’t realize they are stalling or hurting you in any way.

However, if it becomes clear that there is a particular dislike between you, you can discuss why and how you can resolve the issues and decide the best course of action. Sometimes, opening up the conversation for positive discourse is all you need to clear up any discontentment.

There isn’t a complete workplace without the certainty of coworkers – therefore, you can’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and make any concerns known to ensure you’re able to work at the best of your abilities.

Remember to be flexible in expressing yourself by making adjustments to better connect with a colleague whose personality or communication style may clash with yours.

Whether you avoid engaging in gossip, give them room to express themselves, or even speak to a manager, it is important to voice your concerns when you feel necessary.

Nadav Peleg

Nadav Peleg

Founder & CEO, SoundCampaign

Identify how their behavior affects you and firmly explain that you won’t be tolerating this

We all have dealt with difficult co-workers. In the end, we’re people, and we all won’t be 100% at peace all the time. Still, when we’re at the office, we should make an effort to remain as professional as possible, trying to maintain peace within everyone’s limits.

So, what should I do when I’m dealing with a difficult co-worker? There are different ways you can approach this situation, especially if you are someone who doesn’t enjoy conflict.

  • Team up with people who feel the same: the easiest way to deal with a difficult co-worker is to team up with other partners, mainly because it shows that the person who is in the wrong is the one that causes problems to the majority. By partnering with other teammates, you can have a conversation with the person or directly speak to the person in charge, who will notice how many people are being affected.
  • Identify how that person’s behavior affects you, and firmly explain that you won’t be tolerating this. Make sure you firmly explain what that person is doing wrong, mainly focusing on their actions and the direct consequences. Let them know that in case the behavior doesn’t stop; you will be speaking to the person in charge.
  • If the situation has reached a point where you or your work are in extreme discomfort, immediately talk to your superior. When speaking to them, complain about the consequences this co-worker is causing, rather than just complaining about the person. Highlight how work is being affected, so they realize that this is not only a personal matter.

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