8 Tips for Dealing With a Difficult Co-Worker

Dealing with difficult co-workers is not easy and can negatively impact your professional life. Make the best of a tough situation with these tips.
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  • Difficult co-workers can hinder your happiness at work and create a toxic environment.
  • Dealing with difficult co-workers can be challenging, but it can be a valuable learning experience.
  • Evaluate yourself and the role you play in your professional relationships.
  • Invest in finding ways to better handle a difficult relationship with a co-worker.

Positive professional relationships with your co-workers are essential to happiness in the workplace. Unfortunately, difficult co-workers can hinder that happiness. A 2021 Pew Research Center survey found that disrespect in the workplace is one of the leading reasons workers quit their jobs.

Having to deal with a difficult co-worker regularly can cause you to be uncertain about your professional future and prompt you to look for other opportunities. However, learning to deal with difficult co-workers constructively can be a valuable lesson to enhance your professional growth.

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Ready to Start Your Journey?

Make the best of dealing with a difficult co-worker by using the following tips to enhance your working relationships.

Have an Open Discussion

Deal with difficult co-workers directly by having an open discussion about ways to enhance your professional relationship. In an open and respectful manner, talk to your co-worker about the difficulties you face when working with them.

Be open to their perspective and ways you can approach your interactions with them differently. If there is miscommunication between you and your co-worker, a discussion could bring these issues to light and help clear the air. Schedule a conversation with your co-worker to better understand how to strengthen your working relationship.

Cultivate Other Positive Relationships

Managing a relationship with a difficult co-worker can be time-consuming and complex. To avoid being overwhelmed, focus on building and sustaining positive relationships with other colleagues. Spend more time with co-workers who maintain a positive and productive work environment.

Invest in building a supportive team around you that respects and acknowledges your contributions. According to research from Harvard Business Review, people who proactively invest in relationships at work are more fulfilled in their careers and foster a greater sense of purpose.

Get to Know Your Co-Workers Better

Bridge the gap between yourself and a difficult co-worker by getting to know them more on a personal level. Spending time with a co-worker to understand them beyond the workplace can help promote trust and familiarity and boost your working relationship.

Create a safe space to get to know them past their role within the company. Discover each other's similarities and differences to create a better rapport. Try some of the following questions to start a conversation:

  • Do you have any hobbies outside of work?
  • Are you reading or watching anything interesting right now?
  • What led you to this career?
  • What's a work-related accomplishment that you're really proud of?

Set a Good Example

When dealing with a difficult co-worker, do your best to lead by example. Avoid workplace hostility and retaliation by becoming more self-aware and maintaining professionalism.

Objectively evaluate yourself and your role in your working relationship with your co-worker. Assess your behavior, own up to your mistakes, and work to exhibit better communication and behaviors that could encourage your co-worker to do the same.

Avoid Workplace Gossip

According to a survey by Office Pulse, U.S. workers spend an average of 40 minutes per week gossiping. It can be tempting to vent about a difficult co-worker, but try and avoid gossiping in the workplace.

Workplace gossip can be damaging to you and your co-workers, damaging your reputation within your company. It also strains trust between you and your co-workers and may decrease morale in the workplace or lead to a toxic workplace environment.

Limit Your Interactions

Dealing with difficult co-workers can disrupt your professional and personal life. Protect your mental well-being and limit your interactions with difficult co-workers to get through your workday.

Seek assistance from other colleagues who can step in and help when needed. If you and a difficult co-worker work together regularly, schedule quick and effective meetings that focus only on the current task or project. Limiting your time to brief meetings with them can help avoid conflict while keeping discussions productive.

Discuss Resolutions With Your Supervisor

Your manager should be a helpful ally when it comes to overcoming problems with co-workers. If the relationship between you and a difficult co-worker becomes strained, schedule a time with your manager to discuss your difficulties with a co-worker in confidence.

A successful conversation often include four overarching steps: preparation, initiation, discussion, and conclusion.

  • Prepare by thinking about the issue, the facts, and what a resolution might look like.
  • Initiate by opening the conversation with a fact.
  • Discuss by communicating your actions and role in the relationship.
  • Conclude by summarizing action items and possible solutions.

Ask about company resources available to you, such as workplace meditation and other tools offered by your human resources team. Your manager could also act as a mediator between you and your co-worker.

Keep Your Communication Professional

Keep your communication professional in the workplace. Even though you may be close with other colleagues on a personal level, try and avoid talking about anyone behind their back. Instead, communicate directly with your difficult co-worker. Adopt a non-aggressive tone, make direct eye contact, and use appropriate body language. Be aware of your surroundings and think before you speak.

It also helps to be specific about your concerns. Use "I" language instead of "you" language — this can help your co-worker see things from your perspective.

Bottom Line

Your professional relationships with your co-workers can help or hinder your work environment. A toxic work environment and difficult relationships in the workplace can lower the morale for your whole team. Everyone deserves to work in a healthy and productive environment. Find ways to address difficult co-workers to better enhance the workplace for all.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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