Difficult Coworkers: 8 Tips to Help You Save Your Sanity

That's not a valid work email account. Please enter your work email (e.g. you@yourcompany.com)
Please enter your work email
(e.g. you@yourcompany.com)


Welcome to Recruiter Q&A, where we pose employment-related questions to the experts and share their answers! Have a question you’d like to ask? Leave it in the comments, and you might just see it in the next installment of Recruiter Q&A!

Today’s Question: Conflicts arise between peers in the workplace. That’s just bound to happen. But what can employees do when they find that one or two coworkers are giving them a hard time all of the time?

Erica McCurdy1. Check Your Motives – and Theirs

Step one: Check your motives. In almost every case, we own some responsibility for the situation. So ask yourself what you are being
hassled about. The answer will give you a clue to what you may be doing which might be triggering others to be unhappy or upset with you. Perhaps your daily routine of cheerfully saying “Hello” to the boss you walk by makes others feel like you are “kissing up.” Maybe your offers to help your teammates make others feel incapable. Take time to think about how your actions – even with the best of intentions – may be viewed from all directions. You may be able to defuse the situation simply by modifying your own habits.

Step two: Check their motives. What possible reason could they have for picking on you? What do your teammates gain by pushing you? If the motive is theirs and not yours, you must decide where you stand. You have three directions: ignore, address directly, or move out of the way.

Erica McCurdy, McCurdy Life Coach 

jay2. Let It Go

Sometimes, it may be best to just let your pride go and accept détente. Unless you’re willing to walk away from your job, you might have to wait it out and limit your exposure to the toxic coworkers as best you can. They might realize their strategy isn’t working, and move on.

Jay Denhart-Lillard, MetaMorph  

Dave3. Get Your Coworker to Self-Reflect

There is one phrase that works every time when working with a difficult coworker: “What was your intention with that behavior or statement?”

By asking this question in a non-emotional way, you force the difficult coworker to self-reflect, if only for a moment. As a result, you will get one of two outcomes, both of which will benefit you:

1. The self-reflection will lead to a behavior change.
2. The self-reflection will lead to discomfort, and therefore, the coworker will avoid confrontations with you.

Dr. Dave Popple, Psynet Group  

Donald4. Find the Humor in the Situation

My advice is to find the humor in your coworker’s absurd and annoying behavior. Take the high road. Realize you aren’t marrying this person – you get to leave them at the end of the day. For them to act like such an ass, they must have had a really hard life up to this point. This job isn’t forever, and whatever doesn’t kill you will make you stronger – and much more able to take on life’s challenges. Revenge is best served cold. Your eventual success will drive them much crazier than stooping to their level and telling them to “F—- off” at the water cooler.

Donald Jans, Author  

Joe Utecht5. Don’t Take It Personally

Often, people exhibit difficult behavior because of something going on with them personally. In some cases, there’s been a significant life event that is the root of their toxic personality.

Now, that may help explain their personality, but it’s not an excuse. There are other ways for a person to deal with their past rather than creating a toxic work environment.

Joe Utecht, Ceridian LifeWorks  

David6. Be Direct

You really can’t shy away from dealing with difficult coworkers – that will only continue the problem. Instead, try addressing the issue directly. Be polite and respectful, but ask the other worker exactly what it is that is bothering them about you or your performance. Only then can you get to the root of the issue.

If it’s because of some minor thing, then you might be able to brush it off, although you should tell the other employee that you’ll try to get better. If there’s legitimate beef, find out what it is and see if there’s anything you can do to get better and solve the problem. In the end, you might find yourself with a positive relationship with the previously disgruntled employee.

David Bakke, Money Crashers  

L. Denise7. Talk to HR – and Document Everything

As a former corporate leader, I think one of the most important things to do is ensure that all the right people know that there is a challenge, no matter how you are going to handle it. A savvy step would be to contact HR first to alert them that there is a situation you are going to address. Allow them to coach you first, even before you speak to your manager.

Then, talk with your manager about your desired solution. Suggest that the group talk in your manager’s office so you are on neutral ground. If you have documentation, have that with you in case you get blindsided with statements like, “I don’t know what they are talking about,” or “I didn’t do that.” Then take the directed steps from your boss.

Now, I know you have to consider your company’s culture when navigating through this. If the situation continues or worsens, continue keeping a detailed journal of actions, no matter how small, and keep the journal in a secure place, even if that means in your car. The more detailed, the better. You never know when you might need it in the future.

L. Denise Jackson, America’s Leadership Solutionist  

Scott8. Aim for a Win-Win Solution

Conflict doesn’t have to always be a bad thing! Conflict can surface and resolve issues – and ultimately lead to collaboration through candid conversation.

The keys to dealing with especially difficult coworkers include:

1. Recognize your natural style when dealing with conflict: aggress, acquiesce, or avoid. These roughly correspond to our fight, flight, or freeze stress responses.

2. Try to move toward a healthy mix of both complying with someone making demands/requests of you and, at the same time, calmly asserting your own needs. The key is to get all the information out and work toward the best solution for all involved.

3. Emotional intelligence helps, and mindfulness helps boost emotional intelligence. Learn to recognize emotions in both yourself and others, and work with them, not against them.

Scott Crabtree, Happy Brain Science  

By Recruiter Q&A