As the saying goes, you can choose your friends, but you sure can’t choose your family. The same can apply to co-workers. Some colleagues you will get on with and form a good working relationship, on the other hand, some you will walk up eight flights of stairs to avoid sharing the lift with, either way, unless you quit your job, you don’t have a choice about seeing them on a daily basis. If, by some miracle, you like all of your colleagues count yourself very lucky because from my experience there will always be one or two people who you struggle to work with and knowing how to really deal with difficult colleagues can be such a bonus. 

Hopefully the co-workers that you are less keen on don’t impact your day too much, you might find them annoying but not to the point you can’t put up with them but what happens when you do have to work with this person frequently, and they are affecting how you actually work and how you feel about the job you do? I’ve come across a handful of difficult people in my time and trust me unless you deal with the situation it only tends to get worse. So how do you deal with these people? There are some different approaches you can use, here are some that I have learnt along the way…

How to really deal with difficult colleagues

  • Identify what it is that you don’t like about this person – be specific. Is it that they talk too much, are they passive aggressive, are they always stealing the credit, do they slack off?  Defining the personality trait you don’t like is the first step in dealing with the problem. Think about why you don’t like this type of person, is it something to do with your personality rather than theirs? For me, I can’t stand those who are self-important, it drives me nuts! But, if I’m honest, I know I don’t get on with people like that because I struggle to have confidence in my abilities and naturally gravitate to people who are humble and self-deprecating. That’s just my preference, and it has taken me a while to realise it doesn’t necessarily mean the annoying person is in the wrong.
  • Talk to your trusted colleagues to see if they have experienced the same problem with this person or if it is just you. It is perfectly fine if you are the only one, but at least you will gain some perspective. Don’t use this opportunity as a chance to moan about your colleague (save that for your friends and family) instead try to talk through some options to resolve the issue. In other words, make it a constructive discussion because you don’t want to appear like someone who moans about work and doesn’t do anything about it.
  • This might be a difficult pill to swallow but have you tried to get to know this person? It may sound like a horrible situation, but it might be worthwhile taking them out for a drink after work or a lunchtime coffee. You never know they may be completely different outside of the office, they might be nice! If you do this and you find yourself hating them even more, at least you tried, and you can give yourself a pat on the back for that.
  • Can you confront the person yourself? If you have the confidence to talk with them directly, then you should. Don’t be overly aggressive but do be firm and tell them how their behaviour impacts on you. They may not be aware of their actions, and a conversation might nip it in the bud before your relationship becomes a severe problem. If they are particularly tricky they may try to brush off their behaviour or explain it away but stick to your guns and make sure you come to a conclusion that enables you to get on with your job.
  • If you find it challenging to talk face to face or you don’t have the confidence, it might help to send them an email. Explain that you are nervous about broaching the subject with them directly and are writing your feelings down in the hope that you can resolve any future problems. If you are shy, this is a right approach as you are still dealing with this person but in a manner that is more suitable for you.
  • This approach is probably slightly childish, but sometimes with difficult people, you have to give them the silent treatment. Distance yourself and don’t give them your time. This is particularly effective for those negative types who bring the office environment down and want to spend time-sharing their grumbles with everyone else. Avoidance might seem like a cowardly way out but it works, and once these types are cut off they tend to lose their energy or take it elsewhere.
  • Do you have support from your boss? If so make use of it, ask them for their advice on how to deal with this person. You never know they might feel the same and decide to speak to them on your behalf. If the difficult person is your manager it can appear to be more problematic and something you have to put up with. I think it makes the situation slightly easier as your boss, as part of their job, has to manage you correctly. Find some time to speak to HR and ask them to act as a mediator between the two of you. Lousy management reflects poorly on the manager – not you.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of humour, sarcasm and an open plan office to vent your feelings. If the behaviour of one colleague is upsetting the dynamic of the team a roll of the eyes, or a little teasing can sometimes help. I’m not suggesting for one minute that you form some ‘Mean Girls’ pack and bully those co-workers into submission, but a bit of decisive confrontation with a touch of humour can ease the situation. Also, remember that you probably annoy your co-workers every now and again so expect to be on the receiving end of a joke if this is the tactic you employee.
  • If it gets awful is it possible for you to distance yourself from this person, move to a different team or department? Remember we have two survival moods fight or flight. Flight is not necessarily a bad reaction to a stressful situation. Sometimes battles are too much, and you have to flee. If it is that bad find another job. Life is way too short.

What do you think, are there any approaches that you wouldn’t use? Have these tips helped you learn how to really deal with difficult colleagues? Are there any that I’ve missed? We spend such a significant amount of our time in the office that we will always meet and work with people who are demanding and that we don’t like it is how we deal with them that is important. Your thoughts as always are much appreciated.