How to Deal with
Difficult Coworker Situations

Learning how to deal with difficult coworker situations may be one of the toughest things you do in your career. Many people don't like confrontation, and simply avoid it. When you can deal effectively with difficult coworkers, you will enhance your own career and personal growth immensely.

Practical Steps to Deal with Difficult Coworker Situations:

  • First, take some time to write down all the positive qualities of this person. Be as objective as you can, and write down as many strengths or positive traits that your coworker possesses. In order to do this more objectively, you may need to think like this person's manager. What value does the employee bring to the team and/or the company? How has this employee been helpful? Why are you grateful this person is here?
  • Now, write down how this person affects your job negatively. Is it work performance? Are there character or personality traits that conflict with yours? Try to be objective, and keep your emotions at bay.
  • If you were this person's manager, how would you handle the situation? How would you coach this person to change their behavior? Write these down. These are solutions you may want to use in your discussions.
  • Now, think about how you interact with, and react to, this person. Remember, there are at least two sides to everything. Do you purposefully react negatively to this person? Does your relationship with this person negatively affect others in the workplace? Would this person think that you are also a difficult coworker? Thinking through this step will help you see the situation from different angles. Remember, too, that you can much more easily control your own behavior than someone else's behavior. Sometimes changing your own reactions and behaviors can positively change your relationship with a difficult coworker.
  • Here's where you need to make a decision. You either need to discuss the situation with the person directly, or discuss the situation with your manager.

    • Ideally, you should ask to meet with the person directly. Prepare an outline for your discussion based on the following:
      • Start the conversation by telling them you'd like to discuss your work situation. Let them know that you'd like this to be a positive meeting, with the objective of improving your working relationship with them. Ask them to please listen to what you have to say, and when you're finished, you'll listen to them.
      • Share with them the strengths and positive qualities they possess that you appreciate about them. (for example, their ability to analyze and troubleshoot problems, their sense of humor, etc.)
      • Next, let them know that there are also some problems that you're having and would like to work through in order to improve your working relationship with them. Give them some of your examples, and let them know how it makes your work difficult for you. Stick to the facts, be professional, and don't let your emotions take over.
      • Let the person respond to what you're saying. What may surprise you is that many people don't realize they're making things difficult for other people, and will appreciate your honest feedback. The person may even apologize, and tell you about the stress they're under or other problems they're having. In a worst case scenario, the person may become very defensive and deny that they're doing anything "wrong." Be prepared for the person to tell you about things they don't like about how you do things. Keep the conversation professional, and listen to what they have to say. Try to communicate with them and identify positive ways that you can work together (use the solutions you came up with to help you). If your meeting with the person doesn't achieve any positive results, you'll need to proceed with speaking to your manager.

    • If meeting with the person directly seems out of the question (or your direct meeting proved unfruitful), schedule a meeting with your direct manager (whether the difficult person reports to them or not). Let them know that you would like their advice on how to deal with difficult coworker, and how to best resolve the situation. Don't just dump the situation on your manager -- I say this because in order for you to enhance your own career development, you need to learn to personally deal with difficult coworker situations. Use your manager as a guide and coach. If needed, have your manager schedule a meeting to include you, your coworker, and your manager(s). Prepare your outline as described above for a direct meeting.

It's never easy to deal with difficult coworker situations, but once you resolve the problem, you will feel so much better about yourself and your work environment. Dealing with conflict and difficulty becomes easier with practice. You learn to address the issues, and find common ground towards positive working relationships.

One of the best books I have ever read on learning to deal with difficult coworker situations (and continually refer back to), is Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People". If you've never read this book, buy it. I borrowed it from the library, but ended up buying it because I read it so much. All of us have either dealt with, or (gulp) have been, a difficult coworker. Learning how to deal with difficult coworker situations in a positive manner will help you tremendously in your personal and professional growth.


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