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5 “Do’s” for Dealing with Difficult Co-Workers

Some co-workers fall into the general category known as difficult –whether it’s an abrasive personality, annoying quirks, a negative outlook, or any number of other less-than-pleasant qualities or characteristics. Daily sharing the same space with such people can range anywhere from challenging to miserable. Thoughts of looking for a new job may bubble near the surface. But before you do that, consider that you may be trading one difficult co-worker situation for another difficult co-worker situation.

The bad news: Every workplace has difficult people. Even if you haven’t yet, at some point in your career, you will be challenged by a co-worker who qualifies as difficult.

The good news: Your actions, reactions, and responses can improve the situation. The key is mastering how to deal with folks who, for whatever reason, rub you the wrong way or get on your last nerve. Enhancing your ability to manage workplace relationships can vastly improve the environment for you and those you work with, nurturing a spirit of unity that encourages cooperation to flourish.

Consider how these “do’s” can help you learn to cope with difficult people.

  • DO examine your behavior. Before labeling someone as difficult, take a step back and try to discover the root of your negative feelings. Be willing to admit that something other than this person’s specific behavior(s) may be causing the rift between you. For example, maybe Bob looks like the schoolmate who mistreated you, or Sue tends to be bossy like your ex-best friend.
  • DO give yourself permission to voice your thoughts. If the situation regularly becomes more than a little irritating, it’s time to have a constructive conversation. Without being accusatory, make your co-worker aware of the behavior troubling you. It’s essential to use “I” language—“I get upset when you procrastinate, and we miss the deadline.” Rather than “you” language— “You are always running behind because you save everything for the last minute.”
  • DO bring the matter to your supervisor or the HR department. Some problematic behaviors can impact your work negatively to such a degree that it affects the business, resulting in large-scale concerns. Bring as much documentation and proof to the discussion as possible, noting how the co-worker’s challenging behavior has and continues to cause disruption.
  • DO make a point to know and understand your trigger points. Maybe an occasional or minor incidence doesn’t ruffle your feathers too much. But you know that prolonged or more intense scenarios will indeed make it very hard to focus, complete your work, or be comfortable enough to perform at your best. If possible, step away; put space between yourself and the difficult person. Volunteer to make copies or distribute the mail, move to a different station, take your break—anything that removes you from the scene of the challenging behavior even briefly can help you remain calm.
  • DO limit your direct interactions with those who make it difficult for you to do your best work. Take your breaks and lunch in a different place or at a different time. During group events such as staff meetings, center yourself around those co-workers you enjoy being with, whose presence you find uplifting.


At A.R. Mazzotta, we take the difficulty out of finding a right-fit job. Our staffing specialists have the experience, passion, and industry insights to turn your search into a job offer. Remember that A.R. Mazzotta equals job placement.