No matter how much you love your job, a difficult co-worker can dampen the fun. They come in many shapes and sizes—the bully, the procrastinator, the complainer, the indifferent—and you’ll need to use all your wits and patience to get them on your side.
Here are some of our top tips for handling challenging colleagues in the workplace.
Identify the advantages of working together
To give yourself the motivation to work with a difficult person, remind yourself of what you can achieve if you could work well together. Perhaps you could deliver great work together and leverage your collaboration for a professional benefit.
You may be able to subtly remind the difficult co-worker about this, too, so they can see why it’s in their benefit to work with you, too.
If you really can’t identify an advantage to working together, this suggests you can limit your interactions with this person without repercussion. In this case, you can largely ignore the problem person and instead spend more time with the people who motivate and inspire you.
Examine your own behavior
What, me? It’s only fair to evaluate whether your own behavior is a catalyst for other people to respond negatively in turn. Are you a good person to work with, or do you exhibit any of the qualities of the difficult co-worker that you’re trying to avoid?
People often form opinions of others, fairly or otherwise, based on how they remind them of those they’ve dealt with in the past. For someone who had an overly bossy sibling, for example, they might attribute this quality to you too, simply because you remind them of the original antagonist.
Understanding why someone is being difficult is key to finding ways to get them to stop.
Communicate your frustration
The difficult co-worker may not be aware of the issues they’re causing or simply haven’t thought about it much. Think carefully about how you will bring it up so as not to appear accusatory. Offering to help fix problems that might be troubling the problem co-worker can put a positive spin on the interaction.
For example, if a co-worker is always interrupting with unrelated comments during meetings, you could say, “I’m not sure if you’re aware, but we’re on a tight deadline and need to keep things on topic. Can I help with that after the meeting?”
It’s important to remain professional at all times. Though we often get to learn a lot about co-workers’ personal issues in the course of our daily jobs, don’t be tempted to bring them up.
If you begin engaging in destructive behavior just like the difficult co-worker, things can quickly spiral out of control and the situation will always get worse.
Besides this, if the problem becomes big enough that it eventually requires a manager or third party to mitigate, it will be clear for everyone to see that you were the one that remained professional at all times, making your case against the difficult co-worker very strong.
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