How to Deal With Difficult Coworkers (With Examples)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated May 31, 2022 | Published July 26, 2021

Updated May 31, 2022

Published July 26, 2021

Most people have, at one point in their career, met a challenging coworker. These relationships might complicate workplace relationships. However, knowing how to overcome challenges presented by your colleagues can help you gain peace of mind at work and ensure you are at your best for maximum productivity. In this article, we discuss some examples of challenging coworkers and provide tips for dealing with them.

How do you deal with difficult coworkers?

Follow these steps to deal with difficult coworkers:

1. Determine whether interacting with the coworker at that time is a priority

It works well to try and identify whether dealing with your colleague is a priority. For example, suppose you were working on a project together, and the duration of the collaboration was almost over. In that case, it might not be worth your while to start dealing with the colleague, especially if chances of working again are none.

However, if it is at the start of the team engagement, it might be wise to decide to deal with the colleague as soon as possible to ensure the project's success. If you somehow land a job with a form of permanence, then deal with your coworker as soon as you see signs of difficulty.

Related: Work Ethic and Success in the Workplace

2. Set a goal

Determine beforehand what you wish to accomplish at the end of the road. Fix a specific objective and focus on it without wavering, even if the circumstances change. Here are some of the objectives you may set:

  • Get transferred to a different department

  • Get along with them

  • Enjoy your work more

  • Find a new job

  • Finish the assignment on time

  • Get credit for the work you did

Related: Setting Goals to Improve Your Career

3. Understand the circumstances

You should understand the situation with your coworker. Ask for details to clarify the source. Press for a complete description and avoid solving it until you fully grasp the situation as it is. Try to know who might be the cause of the issue. Ensure you have ruled out the fact that you may have inspired the response from your colleague. This helps to gain a perspective that may lead to both of you getting along well.

Ask yourself the following questions to gather information and understand the situation:

  • Is the behaviour one-time or a recurring pattern?”

  • “What is happening here?”

  • “Is this solvable?”

Related: Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

4. Speak out

If the situation is becoming unmanageable, it might be time to speak out to your coworker. Use “I” language to increase reception of your message instead of “you,” which may prompt a less productive response. Some examples are:

  • “I feel wronged when you address me this way,” instead of “you are always calling me mean names.”

  • “I have concluded that your punctuality is making it hard for us to submit our team report on time, instead of “you are the reason why we never submit our team report on time.”

  • "I feel upset whenever you respond to patients that way,” instead of “the way you respond is unprofessional.”

Related: Communication Skills: Definitions and Examples

5. Be genuine and empathetic

Even if your colleague is challenging, they may be going through some hard situations or dealing with a less-enjoyable thing. Show compassion as you get to know your coworkers, and you may find that you would respond in the same manner if you were in their situation. Use humour to defuse situations. A bit of humour might be a tactic to use in case of a situation full of tension. A light-appropriate joke might calm everyone.

6. Encourage healthy competition in the workplace

To deal with overly-competitive coworkers, create a culture of healthy competition at work. Avoid using unfair means to win competitions and encourage integrity and fairness while competing. Set an example for your colleague to follow. If possible, join your colleague and also help them succeed. Show them you want to work with them, not against them.

7. Find common ground for collaboration

Common ground can be a common objective, a shared value, perspective or opinion when dealing with a difficult coworker. This prevents assumptions that usually lead to pre-judgements about different parties. Examples of common clauses are:

  • “So we both agree that this report has to be submitted by next week?”

  • “Can we all conclude that there is a tie between both parties?”

  • “Let us agree that this is a situation that requires the presence of our supervisor.”

  • “We can safely accept that none of us can deal with this client at the moment.”

8. Acknowledge their concerns and feedback publicly

Sometimes, colleagues may raise a valid critique point. Acknowledge that they do have a point and try to ask for details and find a solution. Criticism is healthy when it leads to progress.

9. Talk to your manager

When the situation progresses to uncontainable levels, it may be wise to raise your concerns with your supervisor or visit your HR department. Ensure you have some valid proof of what has been going on. The HR team will then handle the issue to resume work without interference from the problematic coworker.

10. Accept them as they are

Another way is wisely accepting them and adapting to their behaviour. Sometimes, you might, from your assumptions, “not like them.” However, it is normal to find some personalities attractive and others unappealing. It is thus okay to accept their nature and give them time to exhibit better behaviours and attitudes.

11. Limit your engagements

As you carry on with your daily work dealings, you might find it helpful to avoid unnecessary interactions with the problematic individual. For example, you may avoid them even during lunchtimes and meetings. You could also stick around coworkers whose company you find encouraging.

12. Maintain professionalism within the workplace

Do not divulge your personal or private information to your colleagues. Instead, tell your colleague that you'd instead not share about it to avoid gossip.

Also, maintain a neutral position when it comes to opinions bringing problems at work. This will help create a positive environment for everyone to work in and be productive. Be the better person and treat everyone with the respect and kindness they deserve to show maturity. In case of a confrontation, stay calm and use a professional tone to address the opposite party.

Related: Professionalism in the Workplace

13. Focus on positive relationships

You could shift your attention to the good coworkers you enjoy having around instead of fixing it on the person. Pursue positive relationships with the rest of your colleagues. Such engagements can be very encouraging and may lift your morale as you go through the day. Sometimes you may even end up forgetting about them.

How to deal with the different types of coworkers

The following are different coworker types of situations:

  • Stolen work credit: Assess the severity of the situation calmly talk it over with your colleague. If the situation progresses, talk to your boss or the HR department.

  • Negative-minded: Identify the positivity in their comments or distance yourself from negative situations.

  • Time waster or latecomer: Set clear deadlines and if you are in a leadership position, train them to manage their time well.

  • Overly competitive: Be direct that you do not wish to compete and focus on your work.

  • Gossiper: Avoid participating in office politics and gossip. Behave professionally at work. If you find out someone is gossiping about you, review the company policy to check what ethics are to be maintained.

  • Bully: Confront the bully and if the situation persists, document their behaviour to approach your manager or the HR team with evidence.

  • Micromanager: Ask for more unsupervised roles and collaborate with them efficiently.

Related: What is Micromanagement?

Why do you need to learn how to deal with your coworkers?

The following are reasons why you should know how to deal with difficult coworkers:

  • When you learn how to deal with them, you can apply this important skill at work and other areas of your life, such as business and client conflict resolution. The skill is also an advantage when employers are looking for managers and employees to promote.

  • Dealing with them will make your work life easier and reduce the struggle at work.

  • It may lead to happier customers.

  • If things progress to a more significant conflict, management could identify you as a cause of conflict.

  • It can contribute to the growth of the company and increases the morale and productivity of the team.

  • It saves you much time that would have been spent solving issues from the difficult colleague.