How to Get Along With Difficult Coworkers

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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.

( Photo cell105 )

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4 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.

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