How to Deal with Difficult Coworkers

Dealing with difficult people at work is like dealing with them in any other aspect of life: the best way is to do it calmly and in an adult manner. Taking time to reflect and decide on positive action increases the likelihood of a good outcome and decreases the risk of unpleasantness.

1.Analyse your own reactions. Although undoubtedly you’re the more reasonable one, we all have our moments of over-reaction. Attempt to understand the problem from both sides. Have you been reacting negatively to the situation? Have you contributed by overreacting or losing your temper?

2. Write down at least five positive things about your co-worker. Doing this can be helpful when trying to keep things in perspective – it may even help you to discover a solution.

3. Next, look at the situation from their perspective. Would they consider you a difficult person? Have they made any early attempts to resolve the situation? You may even find that the person could be unaware of a problem.

4. Prepare to talk with them: resolving the problem before it reaches your manager is ideal. Sit down and write out the issues you wish to discuss, referring back to how each affects your work situation. If you have ideas on how the issues could be resolved, write those down as well. Structure this into a list to help guide you during your conversation.

5. Talk with them. Begin by approaching them in a friendly, professional manner and ask if you can talk with them. Let them know you’d like your discussion to be a positive thing, helping you both work better. Open with one of the positive things you like about them, reinforcing the fact that your talk is not about attacking them. Then discuss the issues you wrote down. Keep your points simple and professional. If your workmate tries to interrupt, don’t cut them off, but tell them that you’d appreciate it if they heard your say, and then you would like to hear their side. Once you reach the end of the list, invite your co-worker to reply. Give them room to say their piece, just as they did with you, before discussing any solutions. If none present themselves, suggest you arrange for your manager to mediate as the next step.

6. Some tips that may help your conversation:

Keep eye contact and try to keep your body language neutral. If you feel a bit nervous, slow down and breathe.

Keep a professional attitude and always come back to work. If your co-worker doesn’t respond with professionalism, keep your cool. It is better to let another person win cheap shots than to descend to their level, particularly when the conversation may be discussed with your manager later.

Be prepared for them to be defensive. They may also bring up things about you that they don’t like, or behaviour you were unaware was annoying them. Don’t be defensive, but listen.

You may find that your workmate had no idea they were causing you discomfort and is embarrassed. If this happens, reinforce the idea that this was a positive conversation.

7. If you take the issue to your manager, begin by saying that you would like their advice on the situation. Relate the problem in as professional a manner as you planned for talking with your co-worker. Be fair outlining what has happened, even if you have reacted badly at times – your honesty in admitting it will show you to be a mature, professional person.


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