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How to Deal with Difficult coworkers?

Andrew Langat
November 4, 2022
An upset coworker
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Do you have a coworker that makes your work life difficult?

Maybe they are always arguing with others, gossiping, don't accept responsibility, or they never seem to do their share of the work, etc.

Working with difficult people can potentially jeopardize your work and make it difficult to form positive relationships, leading to poor job performance as it impacts a team's performance. Even worse, you can be forced to bend your own principles to accommodate their nefarious ways.

Skills in how to deal with difficult coworkers will ensure that you remain non-confrontational and feel safe whenever a difficult colleague's own behavior crosses the line.

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Who is a Difficult Co-worker?

A difficult coworker is someone hard to work with. They may be aggressive, passive-aggressive, or just plain difficult to get along with. Whatever the case may be, working with a difficult coworker can be challenging.

They are a spanner in the work life and prevent the nurturing of a harmonious work environment.

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Types of Difficult Co-Workers

There are different types of difficult co-workers. Here are some examples:

1. The Gossiper

This co-worker always spreads unverified rumors and gossip about other people in the office. They can make the work environment very toxic and unpleasant. Moreover, they never respect personal issues and act as talking points with co-workers.

Engaging in Workplace gossip can quickly escalate, especially if the gossip touches on sensitive personal issues. This can lead to friction, lack of trust, increased anxiety, and bad blood among coworkers, especially if gossip spreads.

Solution for dealing with a Gosspier: If you are the subject of gossip, investigate who started the Gossip and why. This will bring accountability and prevent future Gossip. If you are the recipient, politely decline the gossip and inform the persona not to approach you again with such information. This sets boundaries.

2. The Slacker

The slacker is the co-worker who doesn't do their fair share of the work. They are always looking for ways to get out of doing their work or shirk their responsibilities. This can make it difficult for the rest of the team to finish their work.

A slacker is a difficult colleague as their own actions can affect a team's performance.

Solution for dealing with a slacker: In a workplace, clearly allocate roles and set deadlines for each task. If you are a team lead, talk with the slacker to know why you don't deliver. If the behavior does not change or improve, involve your manager for further guidance.

3. The Micromanager

The micromanager is the type of co-worker always trying to control everything. They constantly tell other people what to do and how to do it. This can make it frustrating for others to get their work done.

The office micromanager is difficult to deal with as they breathe over your neck, even on matters where their input is not required.

Solution for dealing with a Micromanager: Understand the trigger points for such behaviors, and then candidly inform them why it leads to bad feelings in the workplace.

4. The Complainer

The complainer is the type of co-worker who is always complaining about something. They are never happy with how things are and always looking for something to complain about. This can make it difficult to get work done and can be very frustrating.

They complain about company policies, other coworkers, their career, or even their personal lives.

Solutions for dealing with a Complainer: First, focus on the complaint to learn whether it is genuine. If the complaint is pointless or you cannot get their perspective, politely point out the behavior and how it affects job performance.

5. The Know-It-All

The know-it-all is the type of co-worker who always thinks they are right. They always tell you what to do and how to do it. When unchecked, it can damage team dynamics, be very frustrating, and make it difficult to get work done.

Solutions for dealing with a know-it-all: try and listen to what they have to say and follow up with thought-provoking questions. If they know what they are saying, they will provide actionable feedback that the team can incorporate. If the converse is true, they will learn not to offer feedback on matters they know little about. If the behavior is persistent, ignoring the difficult co-worker will send a message.

An upset employee carrying a pile of books.

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9 Tips On How to deal with Difficult Coworkers

Follow these steps to deal with and manage expectations with difficult coworkers.

1. Try and Understand the Co-worker

Try and understand why your coworker is being difficult. There could be several reasons why they are acting this way, and it is important to try and find out the root cause. This can be difficult without prior training, but a little probing can deliver information that can shed more light.

Once you know what is causing the problem, you will be better able to deal with it.

2. Stay Calm

Try and stay calm when dealing with your difficult coworker. It can be very easy to let emotions take over, but this will only worsen the situation. You can better handle the situation if you can keep a cool head.

One recommended way to stay calm in the face of aggression is mastering breathing techniques for stressful situations.

3. Don't Get into Arguments

Try and avoid getting into arguments with your difficult coworker. This will only escalate the situation and make things worse. If you can, try to have a calm discussion with them instead.

One of the best ways of not getting into an argument is giving the aggressor time to vent their frustration and then calmly responding to each point raised with facts. This way, you take the higher road and control the conversation.

4. Set Boundaries

Try and set boundaries with your difficult coworker. If they are crossing the line, make it clear to them that you are uncomfortable with this. This will help to prevent the situation from getting out of hand. For example, if they like gossiping, inform them that you don't entertain such behavior.

5. Seek Help

Seek help if you are having difficulty dealing with your difficult coworker. There is no shame in admitting that you need help. If your conflict resolution skills are limited, or a difficult co-worker crosses the line on red lines, such as sexual harassment, reach out to a supervisor, manager, or human resources department.

They can help mediate the situation or directly deal with the difficult co-worker.

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6. Understand Your Trigger points

Take time and learn behaviors that trigger you. An example of a trigger point can be over-complaining. In such situations, you can excuse yourself or explain to the difficult person that they will find solace elsewhere.

7. Try and Understand Your Difficult Co-worker

In a world where many people are looking for a listening ear, taking time to understand your co-worker can help alleviate difficult situations. This may call for you to push yourselves outside your comfort zone in trying to get the perspective of a difficult co-worker.

In the course of this quest, try and know the following:

  • If they feel misunderstood
  • If they want someone to speak to
  • If they want something improved in the team

8. Act as a Good Example

One of the best ways to deal with difficult coworkers is by being a good example of creating positive relationships. When you carry yourself with integrity, avoid doing wrong things, solve challenges, and help create a safe space in your workplace, you not only act as a valuable team member but also help nurture a positive culture that will rub off to difficult co-workers.

9. Understand the Limits of Niceness

Whereas being nice in the office is a great trait, you need to know its limits. As rule of thumb, always be kind and not necessarily be nice. Being nice can result in misuse by your co-workers such being given a heavier workload or not taking you seriously. Moreover, it can hurt your chances of career progression as you might be seen as not having the mettle to stand up to difficult coworkers.

10. If you Can, Avoid Difficult Coworkers

If you have challenges dealing with a difficult co-worker, one of the best remedies is simply avoiding them. At the bare minimum, you will avoid a potentially uncomfortable situation and conflict.

If push comes to shove and your strategies don't seem to bear fruit, speak to the Human resources department to move you to a separate department or strategies to get a new job. This last option is advisable if the company fails to be of any help. For example, if there is a lack of inclusive leadership from the top, or the person in question has a bigger status in the company as an owner, etc.

Inspiring, isn’t it ? Want to learn more about connecting self-awareness to professional development? Get in touch today.

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How Highrise can Help

At Highrise, we understand that part of effective team dynamics is knowing how to deal with difficult coworkers. In the absence of executive coaching, this can be difficult to implement.

Our executive coaching solutions on leadership effectiveness, fundamentals of leadership, managing up, and impart knowledge on how to deal with difficult colleagues.

Reach out today for a solution.

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Andrew Langat
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Andrew Langat is an experienced content specialist in Leadership, Productivity, Education, Fintech, and Research. He is an avid reader and loves swimming as a hobby. He believes that quality content should be actionable and helpful.