12 Ways to Deal With a Difficult Co-Worker

Updated March 10, 2023

Almost everyone has to work with a challenging co-worker at some point in their career. Getting along with this person is an important part of developing your conflict resolution skills and learning to overcome adversity. As you learn how to work around their quirks or difficult behaviors, you can focus more on your own work and co-workers you enjoy.

In this article, we discuss the importance of knowing how to deal with a difficult coworker and list 12 ways you can deal with a difficult co-worker.

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The importance of knowing how to deal with a difficult coworker

Knowing how to deal with a difficult co-worker is an important life skill. Although you may enjoy many of the people you work with, you should know how to work with people you find difficult. Learning how to manage conflicts can help you maintain a more harmonious work environment. As you learn to accept or confront their behaviors, you can begin to focus on yourself and those you enjoy more.

Related: How To Manage Difficult Employees

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How to deal with a difficult co-worker

Follow these 12 steps to handle a difficult co-worker:

1. Learn to voice your thoughts.

If your co-worker is making it difficult for you to feel comfortable at work, it may be time to confront the situation. When sharing how they make you feel, use "I" language so they better understand your perspective. Using "you" language may make it difficult for them to accept responsibility for their actions. Here are a few examples of "I" versus "you" language:

  • "I feel upset when you talk to me that way." vs. "You always say the wrong things."

  • "I find that your behavior makes it hard for me to focus." vs. "The way you act is irritating."

  • "I find that your behavior makes it hard for me to focus." vs. "The way you act is irritating."

Related: Handling Workplace Conflict (With Interview Questions)

2. Get to know their perspective.

Sometimes getting to know your challenging co-worker's perspective can make it easier to get along with them. After getting to know them better, you may realize that their background and life experiences shape their behavior and point of view. Although you deserve to be treated with respect, this insight may help you understand the way they see things.

3. Focus on your positive relationships.

Rather than dwelling on this co-worker, shift your focus to those you enjoy being around. Make an effort to form positive relationships with your other co-workers. Casual conversations with uplifting people throughout the day can make you feel happier at work. Consider asking one of your favorite co-workers to do something fun outside of work.

Related: 8 Ways To Build Workplace Relationships

4. Talk to your supervisor.

When this person begins to break company policies or is negatively impacting your work, it may be time to bring up the issue to your supervisor or human resources department. Document this co-worker's adverse behaviors so you have proof of what they have been doing. Your supervisor or human resources department is supposed to find ways to resolve this conflict and make you feel safe and respected at work.

Related: 13 Key Functions of a Human Resources Department

5. Accept their personality.

You may find that this co-worker isn't doing anything wrong, but you simply don't enjoy their personality. This is a normal part of life as you find people you enjoy and people you want to avoid. Learn to accept that you need to get along with this person. Try to find things you enjoy about their personality and give them a chance to show their good side.

Related: 10 Workplace Personalities (And How To Work With Each)

6. Stay neutral at work.

If other co-workers are talking about this person, keep your opinions to yourself. Remaining neutral is how you can help maintain a positive work environment for everyone. If you must talk about this person, save it for a friend or family member who is not connected to your work. Save your energy at work for discussing positive things about others.

Related: 10 Tips for How To Get Along With Coworkers

7. Limit your interactions.

Limiting the amount of time you spend with this co-worker can help you cope with the situation. You may find that you can handle them in small doses. At lunch or during meetings, stay by co-workers who you find kind and uplifting. When limiting your interactions, make it subtle to be mindful of their feelings.

Related: How To Communicate Effectively With a Difficult Team

8. Be a better person.

Even if this person acts unprofessionally, you must have the skills to be a better person. By continuing to treat others with kindness and respect, you're showing that you are the more mature person in this situation. It's best to deal with these kinds of conflicts in private rather than bringing other coworkers into it.

9. Know your trigger points.

Reflect on which behaviors of theirs you find the most challenging. This way, if they begin to exhibit these actions, you can immediately remove yourself from the situation. This technique can help you stay calm and collected at work. Focus on directing your energy and passion toward things that really matter.

Related: How To Deal With Coworkers in 10 Steps

10. Focus on the positive.

Though it may be easy to focus on this co-worker, direct your attention to what you love about your job. This may be your other co-workers, the actual work you do or your job's perks. Being grateful for the good things in your life can make this one challenging part seem smaller.

11. Reflect on your own actions.

While thinking about this co-worker, think about the way you act toward them. You may find that you both have developed a feedback loop of behavior. Be the person who breaks this loop and try treating them with kindness for a change. You may find that they return the kindness, and you both can move forward.

Related: Interview Question: "How Would Your Co-Workers Describe You?" (With Examples)

12. Show compassion.

Everyone has their own things to deal with, which could explain the way your co-worker acts. Try to show empathy and compassion as you get to know this person better. You may find that if you were in their situation that you would act similarly.

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