How to Deal with Difficult Coworkers

One thing in life that will always be constant is difficult people. Hence, in every office, one will have to deal with difficult coworkers. While difficult people in life can be kept somewhat at bay, you have to work daily with the people at your office. A coworker with whom you may have to collaborate on a project cannot be ignored. However, that does not mean that spending 8 hours a day in the same office with that person is an easy feat.

So, how do you actually deal with a difficult coworker? What are the best strategies for cohabitating with such a person, while still maintaining your cool? And should you even try to coexist with them, or should they be just ignored and left to their own devices?

First and foremost, you have to realize that a situation such as this cannot be left unaddressed. You have to deal with the situation, mainly because these situations can create strained relationships and increase stress. Effectively handling the situation can not only help improve relations with the coworker, but will also show the boss that you are able to handle difficult situations.

The most important thing when facing a situation with a difficult coworker is to stay calm. If you get angry, then the situation can be blown out of proportion, and it will officially be your fault. Not to mention, you can actually be the one who gets stuck with the reputation of being difficult.

Next, analyze the situation. Why is the other person being difficult? Is it just his nature, or does he actually have a legitimate reason? Could it be possible that he was just having a bad day or facing personal problems? Entertain the idea that perhaps it wasn’t his fault, but yours. Perhaps you said something you didn’t mean to, or perhaps your words were construed in a manner that you didn’t mean.

If you can’t look at the situation objectively, try asking a trusted friend or colleague in the office, preferably one who witnessed the scene. If no one witnessed the scene, then try to objectively define the scene to that friend or colleague, and stick to the facts. Then consider their opinion; they may have insight into that matter that you might be missing as you are too close to the situation.

Ask the friend or colleague about advice on how to handle the situation; if it is your fault, then try apologizing and clarifying what you actually meant. If in fact, it is not your fault, then try talking to the coworker and explaining what you didn’t like about the situation. It could be that he genuinely does not realize what he did wrong.  

However, if he is aware of the impact that he had on you, he will try to deny it or try to explain it. Or in the worst case scenario, he may not even try to deny or explain the behavior, which means that he is being difficult on purpose. In this case, decide if you want to let it go and ignore him, or confront him about it.

Letting it go and ignoring him can be an effective strategy at times. Some people are difficult because they want to get a rise out of somebody. If they feel that they aren’t getting it from you, then they may move on. However, other people act difficult because they feel powerful, like they are the one dictating the terms. In this scenario, it is best to confront him, and publicly if possible. Remember, you do not want to create a scene; you just want to call him out on his behavior, so that he knows that you aren’t a pushover. Still, this task can be quite daunting.

In a public setting, try to deal with him with gentle humor or with sarcasm. Try to humorously call attention to his difficult behavior with others and to the impact that it has on others, such as an exaggerated physical gesture indicating that he hurts the others with his behavior. If the coworker feels that he may be becoming the butt of your jokes due to his difficult behavior, he may let off, rather than risk becoming the office jester.

However, if none of these techniques work, your only option may be to get management involved. Consider talking to your boss, manager, or HR department about his behavior. Indicate the impact that his behavior is having on the other employees, as well as the steps that you have already taken to address the matter. This will show that this is a serious matter and that you are not making this complaint lightly. If possible, get the other employees to speak up about the behavior as well. This will indicate to the boss that the impact of the issue is wider and deeper than just one person.

If this still does not work, then you have only a few other options left. You can go back to ignoring him and try to limit his access to you. Choose different projects that him or work with different clients, so that you need not have to deal with him and his behavior on a daily basis. Another is to transfer to a different job within the company, or to leave the company all together. While, this is not you fault, and you shouldn’t have to leave a good position because of somebody else, take into consideration the time and energy that you put in dealing with this guy daily. That time and energy will be better utilized at a new position, which may even help you to move further up the corporate ladder. So, indirectly that coworker would have helped you further your career by being difficult.

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