How to Deal with a Difficult Co-Worker

Do you have that one difficult co-worker in your office who no matter what you do you just can’t seem to get along with them? You have to work with them so you have to make the relationship work but it just doesn’t seem as if they want to cooperate. What have you done in the past? And what can you do right now?

Have lunch with the difficult co-worker

One way to deal with a difficult co-worker is to try and warm up to them. This is not always easy and you may have to work at it gradually. One way to do this is to have lunch with them. It might not work if you have lunch with them in the office or in the company cafeteria. But it probably will work better if you head out to a restaurant instead.

By getting out of the office you’re getting into a different environment with a different atmosphere. Personalities are sometimes caused by environments such as the workplace. By moving out of the office the difficult coworker’s personality might soften. In that environment it might be possible to get to know that person in a way that you never could when you’re both at work.

How to Deal with a Difficult Co-Worker
How to Deal with a Difficult Co-Worker
An office environment often breeds competition. This is especially true if you and the difficult co-worker are doing a similar job or performing similar tasks. Tension often builds because the co-worker believes that the work is being handled in an uneven manner. By removing yourselves from the office and moving to a neutral site, such as a restaurant, much of that tension eases or even disappears completely. In that environment you can get to know the co-worker a little better and maybe even eventually discuss and settle your differences.

See if you can help them in any way

Depending upon the situation, and on the actual relationship you have with the co-worker, you might be able to address any difficulties directly. For example, you could say to the co-worker “we’re working together and yet I don’t always feel that our relationship is what it needs to be in order for us to function in the most efficient way”.

The co-worker may respond to this comment in a positive way, especially if he or she feels the same way about you. If that’s the case you may be able to discuss your differences and hopefully work them out in a constructive way.

If the co-worker is not open to your reconciliation comment, you may have to approach this in a different way. You can handle this by finding out what it is you may be able to do in order to make easier for the co-worker to do his or her job. Most people appreciate an offer of assistance. You could frame the question by saying “is there anything about your job or the workflow that you’re having any issues with that I may be able to help you with?”

This type of question is open ended and will give your co-worker an opportunity to state their grievances but to do so in a constructive way that will help with your working relationship. By reaching out to the co-worker you’re suddenly looking like less of a problem and more a part of the solution.

Be ready to confide in them – sometimes

Some people can be very difficult to find common ground with. That can often be the primary source of the conflict between the two of you. If that’s the case you may have to find a better way to break the ice.

This can sometimes be accomplished by sharing a bit of personal information. If you have a history of conflict with a co-worker you certainly don’t want to share anything that’s too deep or personal. But there may be some fairly harmless information that you can disclose that will help the co-worker see you in a better light. This can make you appear more human to the co-worker, who may suddenly be open to a constructive dialogue with you.

Be ready to listen

The opposite can also be true. It may be that the coworker has some issues that he or she doesn’t feel comfortable disclosing. But if you can signal that you’re there and available and willing to listen than the coworker may see you in a more positive way.

It’s important to remember that we often decide in our own minds what a co-worker is like. If we had positive interactions with them in the past we can to see them in a positive way. But if our relationship with them has typically been strained, our view of them will be particularly negative. That could lead us to make all kinds of negative assumptions about the person, many of which may not even be true.

Sometimes the problem is us. We don’t listen to the co-worker because of a negative past history or because we decide that that person just isn’t worth it. But everyone has problems and when we’re willing to listen to others about their problems and perhaps to do our part to make things better, a poor relationship can suddenly turn into a strong one, or at least constructive one.

If all else fails, talk to your boss

Okay, you’ve done all of the above and more and you still can’t seem to improve the relationship with a difficult co-worker–what do you do?

It’s probably time to speak with your boss. Be sure to document any issues of conflict that came between the two of you in the past, as well as any steps you’ve taken to try and correct or improve on the situation. Be sure to stick to the facts, which is why you’re documenting your efforts, and avoid getting into emotional discussions. Your boss will only be concerned with what is actually happening, and how it’s having an effect on work and productivity by both you and your co-worker. He or she will not be concerned with how you feel about the relationship.

Sometimes, work relationships don’t work out in spite of your best efforts. It may be that the only solution will be a make some sort of a change, such as a change of seating arrangement, or even a transfer of one of you to a different department. In the event it comes down to something this drastic you’ll have to be prepared for such an outcome before taking the matter to your boss.

We have to get along with our co-workers no matter what. In that regard, we must do whatever we can to make our work relationships as efficient as possible. It would be great if we actually liked all of our co-workers, but that’s not always possible. We don’t have to like our coworkers but for the good of the company and for the sake of our jobs we have to do the best we can.

Do you have a difficult co-worker? Or are you working with such a person right now? What are you doing to try and make the relationship better?

( Photo from Flickr by o5com )

Leave a reply