How to Deal with a Difficult Coworker

We all have that one coworker who drives you up the wall. Maybe they are constantly complaining or maybe they talk over you during meetings. Either way, dealing with a difficult coworker can make even the best job feel like a chore. Depending on the issue, there are an abundance of ways to handle the situation in a professional and courteous way. 

Talking with Peers and Family 

Having a strong support system is crucial for venting out frustration or qualms about a difficult coworker. Before you try and discuss the issue at work, take a step back and talk to a friend about how the other person might perceive the issue at hand.  It is important to consider that the other person might not be aware of the problem or perceive the issue in another light. 

Avoid talking poorly about the situation with other coworkers at your job. This creates gossip in the workplace and can make the work environment hostile. Another issue is that gossip can circulate quickly and may be heard by the difficult coworker. This can hinder the potential of civil conversation in the future. Engaging in gossip can seem like a good idea in the moment, however, it is better to talk with someone who is separated from the situation. 

Talk with the Coworker 

Another way to try and solve a work issue is to discuss the problem with the coworker directly. Find a time when you are both alone and address the issue at hand. Try to leave out petty arguments that are more likely to stir up drama and rather focus on the  fundamental issues in the workplace preventing you both from working effectively.

 It’s important to be direct, while also using considerate and compassionate language. Using phrases like “I feel…” and “I think…” rather than accusatory phrases, like “you do this…” and “you think…” can allow the situation to stay grounded. 

When going into an discusion, make sure to not only state your points, but also be fully engaged with how the coworker responds. Most people are not intentionally trying to make the work environment uncomfortable and coming to a middle ground can make communication easier for future projects.

Minimize Contact

Depending on the severity of the issue, sometimes the best situation is to minimize the amount of time you spend with the coworker.  Since you are in a professional setting, it is crucial that you don’t completely “ghost” the coworker, but rather be concise yet polite in your interactions.  

Setting an invisible boundary can help separate yourself from the coworker, making it easier to focus on your work.

Talk to a Manager

Navigating work issues with difficult coworkers can involve finding a delicate balance. While many problems can be solved independently, there are times when including a manager can help resolve it in a mature way. Managers can be a great mediator to navigate issues or refer you to other management. In more certain situations, the manager may refer you to the HR (human resources) department. They are specialized in managing more extreme topics, such as harassment, tense conflict, and discrimination. 

Regardless of your career path, you will certainly collaborate and interact with a diverse array of people. Having the ability to handle conflict is a crucial transferable skill that can not only help with your career, but also impact the workers around you.