How to deal with a difficult coworker

It’s quite common to not get along with everyone you meet in the workplace.

Personalities clash, agendas bump heads, or coworkers just do not see eye to eye. These uncomfortable situations can be dealt with effectively if you keep your head, maintain your poise, and develop a sense of perspective. 

It is important to deal with workplace conflicts in a manner that will assist in promoting a healthier working relationship between the parties involved – which usually starts with open lines of communication.

The following tips are aimed at helping employees to deal more effectively with a difficult coworker.

Realise you can’t change your coworker. Accept your differences and focus instead on the job or tasks you are contracted to perform on behalf of your employer. Where your duties overlap with those of the coworker you have an issue with, resolve to keep it professional.

Before each workday, anticipate where you might run into difficulty and look for ways to minimise the friction. If that requires working on your active listening skills or being more open to your coworker’s ideas, then put those into practice.

Look for the positive. Most people have a mix of good and bad qualities. It’s possible that you see something in your coworker that you don’t like about yourself, or maybe you just haven’t spent enough time with them to appreciate their good qualities. If you assume positive intent, rather than negative, it will be easier to build a professional working relationship, and complete the tasks at hand.

Make an effort to build trust, and try discussing the issue with your coworker. Invite him or her to lunch and let them know, tactfully, what’s bothering you. They may not even be aware of it. Be prepared, however, to receive the same feedback. Maybe you’ve said or done something to put your coworker on their heels. If so, be prepared to make amends and start off fresh.

Communicate clearly. In the modern business environment, email is often the fastest, simplest way to communicate. However, even with the best of intentions, things can easily get taken the wrong way if you’re not careful. When working with a difficult coworker, don’t be afraid to take the conversation off line with a phone call or a face-to-face meeting. It may take more time, but this way you can avoid misinterpretations of intent, tone and meaning.

Don’t take it personally. Often times difficult coworkers behave badly because of personal problems occurring outside of work. If you have taken steps to build trust and professional rapport, performed your professional duties well and on time, and are still not seeing a change, it may be time to consider that the root cause of their behavior has nothing to do with you.

When all else fails, discuss the situation with your manager. They may have noticed the problem and can help you work through it without it becoming disruptive to the office environment. Be proactive, and come to the conversation with ideas and recommendations on what you can do to improve the relationship.

While dealing with difficult coworkers can be uncomfortable, there are always solutions available that will allow you to deal with the situation professionally, and find a way forward that works out for the benefit of all team members.

Lyndy van den Barselaar is the Managing Director at ManpowerGroup South Africa.

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