Dealing With a Difficult Co-Worker 101

Most jobs involve working with other people to some degree or another. I have met some wonderful people through my work. However, like most of us, there have been times where I have worked with people that I have found difficult. The difference with meeting difficult people at work than in other areas of life is that we don’t always get a choice about whether to spend time with that person. So how do we deal with co-workers we find difficult? Here are some of the things that I have found useful.

Set Boundaries

Be clear about how you deserve to be treated and how you want to treat others. Listen to your intuition and if you feel uncomfortable about something, try and address it. You train people how to treat you. Believe in yourself and show people that you know that you are someone worth treating with respect. Not everyone will have your best interests at heart, so look out for yourself and stand up for what you deserve.

If this is a difficult area for you, take one step at a time. Start saying what you really think, rather than trying to please everyone. Step by step, you can learn to set boundaries and be assertive.

Be Assertive

If you find that you are getting to the point that you need to do something, try to deal with the person you find difficult directly rather than talking behind their back. It is easier to talk to other people about an issue, but at the end of the day if you don’t actually deal with the issue head on, the other person won’t be any the wiser. No one is perfect and we all have upset others inadvertently at one time or the other so give the person a chance to know what you find difficult and to set it straight.

Be direct and honest — but also be fair. They may have no idea that you find them difficult to deal with so try and put yourself in their shoes and be aware that they may get upset or need time to process your feedback, too.

See Your Part

There are always two sides to every story — but it can be hard to see your own part in a difficult situation. Try and take a step back and see what you are contributing to a situation. Does your colleague remind you of someone from your past? Are you being fair with them? Deep down are you jealous of them and how they are doing at work as compared to you? Perhaps you are always nervous around them; imagine what it is like for them to interact with you. This involves digging deep and being honest, but it is a worth while endeavour and will help you grow as a person.

This doesn’t mean blaming yourself for the situation and taking all the responsibility on your own shoulders, but being able to see what you are bringing to the table is incredibly empowering. It can be easy to write someone off, gossip about someone or paint them as the villain, but that doesn’t change anything. If you find this difficult, it may be worth speaking to someone you trust to give you honest feedback (maybe a manager or coach).

Try Not to Take it Personally

Just because someone is behaving in a certain way, doesn’t mean anything about you. Try to disassociate others’ behaviour from how you feel about yourself. This can be a tricky one, but learning to develop a thick skin and let things go is an invaluable skill in any area of life.

Have you ever noticed how some people are not easily offended whereas other people get upset by the smallest thing? This doesn’t mean that you should let people treat you badly, but being able to take a step back at times can often be the best thing you can do. Obviously, if a colleague’s behaviour towards you is personal, then it is a different issue and you should always speak to a manager to get support.

Get Help

Sometimes you can try everything to resolve a situation and nothing seems to work. If this is the case, please don’t suffer in silence. There is nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it. Speak to a manager or a human resources representative that you trust. If a relationship with a co-worker is causing you anxiety or affecting your work, it’s time to ask for support.

Speaking to someone who is trained to deal with situations like this will ease the burden from you and should give you more options and it really is a sign of maturity, to know when to ask for support.

How do you deal with difficult co-workers? Have some approaches worked better than others for you? Let us know in the comments.


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Jen Smith is a Life Coach and Mentor living in the UK. She has tried many career paths herself and now helps people achieve their goals and dreams.


  1. angelee on the 7th March

    One approach is to stay professional. But I admit, there were times when I couldn’t help but take it personally. Sometimes, you need to defend yourself especially when you believe you did a good job. I sounded like I had an issue with a co-worker, but it was quite a long time ago and surely I’m not the only one who can relate when asked about how to deal with difficult office mates.

  2. Jen Smith on the 8th March

    Hi Angelee

    I have found staying professional hard too at times, definately! I agree – I think most people have had difficult work mates at one time or another. It’s a learning curve and about finding positive ways to deal with this if it arises.



  3. Luce on the 9th March

    I’m keeping this article! Great advices!

    Anyone can count himself lucky if he never had to deal with a difficult coworker…

    Thank you!

  4. Jen Smith on the 9th March

    Thanks Luce, I am really pleased this was helpful!


  5. Bojan Djordjevic on the 31st March

    Treating others as I’d like to be treated is my philosophy. I’m passionate about what I’m doing and do it wholeheartedly. When the day is done I can rest easy knowing I’ve given the day my all.

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