How to Get Along With Difficult Coworkers

Often, business owners like to refer to their employees as part of a corporate ?family.? Yet, the reality is that coworkers aren?t family – they aren?t even friends. Sometimes, the only thing two team members have in common is that they share the same work space. While you don?t have to be best pals with your coworkers to enjoy your job and achieve your career goals, it?s never easy to deal with difficult coworkers. Eventually though, most professionals will encounter at least one team member who is mean-spirited, incompetent, stubborn, frustrating, or possibly even cruel. Today, we?ll explain how you can address a tough situation at work and get along with a frustrating coworker:

How to Get Along With Difficult Coworkers
How to Get Along With Difficult Coworkers

Extend an Olive Branch to Difficult Coworkers

Occasionally, workplace animosity is the result of a simple misunderstanding. Perhaps you misinterpreted the tone of an email. Or maybe a coworker made a joke that you didn?t appreciate. Rather than letting discontent fester, it?s typically a wise idea to first extend an olive branch to a so-called ?difficult? employee and see if you can?t clear the air. Most of the time, people will be quick to apologize if they hurt your feelings inadvertently. Just make sure to approach them in a respectful, non-confrontational manner.

Find Common Ground with Difficult Coworkers

Perhaps you and another employee strongly disagree about how to tackle an assignment. Rather than going back and forth about issues you can?t seem to resolve, consider starting the conversation with something you can both get behind. Once you find common ground, it will be easier to make compromises and work together effectively.

Keep it Professional

Not everyone is going to like you. And it?s unreasonable to expect that you?ll enjoy the company of everyone you meet. That doesn?t mean you can?t put your differences aside to finish a project, though. One way to ensure workplace harmony is to keep your dealings professional. Don?t attempt to engage a difficult coworker with ?extra-curricular? activities, so to speak.

Bring in a Third Party to Mediate

Situations tend to dictate behavior. That is, people act differently depending on where they are and who they?re with. Given that fact, it?s a wise idea to ask a third coworker for help if you find yourself partnered with a difficult employee. Having another voice in the room can alter the team dynamics in a positive way and facilitate desired outcomes.

Don?t Seek Out Trouble with Difficult Coworkers

Some employees simply have to communicate with each other on a daily basis. If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to talk to someone you despise day in and day out, then there?s not much you can do to avoid them. Alternatively, though, some employees rarely ?? if ever ?? need to collaborate. If you and someone from another department don?t get along, then there?s no shame in simply leaving them alone. Ignoring a problem might not seem like the best method available, but in truth, there?s no need to create trouble where none exists. Let them be and they?ll likely return the favor.

Think Before You Speak

Difficult people at work can be frustrating to the point of madness. Nevertheless, it?s crucial that you always take a moment to think about your words before you send an email or decide to call a difficult coworker. Even if they resort to juvenile name-calling or other such nonsense, resist the urge to sink to their level. Instead, take the high road. It may not be as viscerally satisfying as yelling at them, but in the long run, it?s a much more reasonable approach.

Talk to Your Boss – But Tread Lightly!

Though it?s not ideal, individuals who have exhausted every other option when dealing with a difficult employee shouldn?t hesitate to talk to their boss about the problem. Explain your issues calmly and make sure to convey that you?re serious. A good boss will take action to resolve the tension in a fair and expedient fashion.

Call the Authorities

Note, such an action should only be taken in extreme cases. However, if someone at your work is making you feel unsafe through their words or actions or if they?ve physically harmed you in any way ?? call the police. Individuals who have spoken to their boss and received minimal support or an outright dismissal after reporting a violent or dangerous coworker should know that they can always call the authorities if they truly feel someone is threatening them. Though this is a drastic step, all professionals should know that they have the right to take it should they feel it?s necessary.

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6 Responses to How to Get Along With Difficult Coworkers

  1. I love the title of this article because looking back on my work, I had to use all of those techniques mainly because I needed to keep the job, especially since testing the waters for other opportunity job options was extremely limited. I was in a forced economic situation as a head of household and needed to maintain a certain income level to cover basic necessary living costs, while raising two children.
    Even in today?s era of workers, one is always find that something that annoys you because nothing is perfect. One thing that people need to realize is that workplace relationships don?t need to be more than working together to achieve job goals. You just need to combine performances to achieve the goal. Most people who are negative toward others ( comments, gossiping, bullying, etc.) usually need others to re-enforce them. They always need to be appreciated for everything, rather than be confident in their own performance. I could work in a team or by myself, but I hated cleaning up behind someone who never wanted to work without creating a disaster around them. ( sorry my pet peeve). But I dealt with these sloppy people by working around them and got my part of the job done, leaving them to do their portion of the job. I also learned a long time ago that words can?t hurt you if you are doing your job right, even when you are working with someone who tries to nick pick how you communicate with them ( like your voice tone or facial expressions) . I limited my conversation to bare minimum needed and followed a checklist diligently.
    I did attend work party gatherings as required but my personal life was completely separate. Especially in today?s world with harassment of any form, if they ( the accuser) perceived it, you need to walk on eggshells.
    But in any workplace, no one should expect perfection either. If you are a person who doesn?t do well with any form of criticism don?t pick employment in a job that will expect you to develop a job skills a certain way for specific reasons you don?t feel the need to develop. Also a job is not always a place for socializing beyond basic acquaintances, so no high school cliches. Work is a place to earn an income that pays your bills.

  2. Hi MariaRose – I’ve pretty much had a similar experience in my job life. I mostly kept work and my personal life separate. One of the things we all need to develop though is a thick skin. As you say, we’re just working with people. We don’t need to like them, but we have to learn to work with them, and not take some of the nonsense personally.

    But one issue that’s complicated, as you wrote, is when you have to carry the load for someone who isn’t particularly productive. As you know from other articles I’ve written, in my experience it’s very common for the most productive workers to be fully expected to cover poor performance by the nonproductive members of the staff. That’s one issue I could never work around, and largely why I no longer work in an organized environment.

  3. Again Kevin, you were able to create your options for something else to earn money. I wanted to bring up the point that developing that ?thick skin? is sometimes necessary if you both need the income and don?t have any immediate other options. As long as the negativity isn?t creating an affect on your paycheck, one can deal effectively with difficult people, who are so self centered. Of course, if there?s a problem that falls under the conditions that need reporting, then do so. Like I had to when a co-worker hit me on the side of my head in front of others , when he came to work smelling of alcohol and I told him to go home. (My department supervisor who was a closet drinker couldn?t find the nerve to discipline this person and I had to deal with it.)
    Your article gives people options to deal with coworkers without being a whiner, in other words, being the adult. You indirectly state that one needs to not be emotional involved with social interactions, just work well together.
    If you need to work to pay bills, especially if you are supporting yourself, you need to not be extremely picky about your coworkers because they are not your friends circle, they are your coworkers?big difference.
    Workplace is for team effort and there are rules in place for coworker interaction. Stay within the lines and do your job, don?t look to rock the boat, but do take on work activities that advance your paycheck, as that raise doesn?t come because you just show up for work. Even if you can?t create your own options outside the job, you can get ahead by doing your job and learning from mistakes. That CEO didn?t get that job by being everyone?s friend, they overcame hardship and made it a positive. I saw so many difficult people who I work with either leave the job or get fired over the years. All I had to do was outlast their negativity, plus jump when an opportunity showed up.

  4. I didn’t actually write the article, guest contributor Chans Weber did. But I like what you said about outlasting difficult coworkers. That’s as strategy all buy itself! One thing I did find hard over the years is that every now and again you get a coworker who really gets to you on a personal level, and even “gets into your head”. That’s the toughest kind, and there’s no easy way to deal with that.

  5. I am having issues with dealing with jealous co-workers. They make underhand comments that catch me off guard and I can’t immediately respond. And I am pretty quick with my quips. Sometimes I am just shocked.

    The worst personality issues for me is someone who is nice one day and mean the next. I have spoken to my boss, who says to just ignore them and not to worry but their slight rudeness rents space in my head on my personal time.

    I am tough and have a strong personality and presence but I feel personally sighted by 2 individuals every day. The gossiping, comment and bullying (not enough to actually have my boss address the issue) is stressful and tiresome.

    Today, I am reading blogs and other helpful websites to try to deal with my co-workers.

    Thank you for your posts and please feel free to comment on my particular issues.

  6. Hi Sarah – Many places I’ve worked have featured similar personalities. The worst kind are the ones who are somehow entrenched in the employer’s system. They do what they do because they know they can get away with it. Most of the rest are just annoying.

    A lot depends on your personality, but what usually worked for me was approaching them with the upper hand. It means giving it back in a high altitude but more general sense. I’m not sure I can explain that in words, but it’s more of an attitude you project, one of inner strength. The goal is to shut it down without getting into an argument, that makes it looks like you’re just as much to blame as the perpetrator. It’s almost as if what your posture is when you’re delivering your comment is more important than the actual words you say. Like leaning in a bit and making very direct eye contact, and speaking with a firm tone that makes your message clear.

    It might be something like leaning over their desk, looking them in the eye and asking a question that really is intended to deliver a message, maybe along the lines of “I know you think you’re being funny, but do you and I have a problem?” Come up with a variation of that you can deliver with conviction and without hesitation. A lot of times just showing up at their desk after they’ve made a comment throws them off guard, and even scares them a little. Raise your voice a little, but don’t shout.

    There’s a certain way to approach people, even difficult ones, in a way that commands respect. Of course, it works better if you are very good at your job. If people know you’re competent and the department or the employer relies on you, you’re about 60% to 70% of the way there.

    But even with that profile, sometimes you just have to project a bit of intimidating power. It’s a difficult profile to master, and I didn’t always get it right. But when I did, it shut down the comments pretty quickly.

    Sometimes you just have to let people know that while you are generally a good guy/girl, you still require respect. It’s a weakness in the human condition, that some people will always exploit others. It’s bullying, but in the workplace it requires more finesse to deal with than in the school environment. And unfortunately, if you don’t put a stop to it it never ends. We’ll never get more respect from people than we demand. I wish it were otherwise, but competition brings out the worst in people. And while a lot of employers try to foster that “we’re a family” atmosphere, there’s often unspoken competition within the workplace.

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