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The difficult co-worker - Is it them or you?

There’s nothing quite like a difficult co-worker to ruin your day. Learning how to deal with difficult co-workers is something you may need to do during your professional career. You spend a lot of your time at work so you can’t afford to have that time ruined by someone else’s behaviour. Here are some useful tips for how to identify, deal with and adjust to a co-worker who is displaying difficult behaviour.

The attributes of a difficult co-worker

  • Argumentative – This co-worker always seems to have their back up about something. They might verbally attack you if you make an honest mistake or disagree with any suggestions you may have.
  • Rude – The type of person you would avoid in everyday life, the rude co-worker can really frustrate you. They might make rude comments about your appearance, insult your work or just ignore you/exclude you from conversations.
  • Disrespectful – The disrespectful co-worker will cut you off midsentence, laugh at your misfortune and steal your lunch from the fridge!
  • Lazy – The last person you want to get paired with during a team project, the lazy co-worker will leave most of the work up to you, cut corners, make mistakes and exaggerate their involvement to the boss.
  • Patronising – This co-worker seems to think they know it all better than you do. Maybe they have been at the company longer than you have and they feel entitled to enforce their dominance, but their behaviour will make you feel small and belittled after an interaction with them.

How to deal with difficult co-workers

  • Argumentative – The best way to deal with this type of co-worker is to not rise to the bait. You don’t want to get into an argument with them because they will not give up and you will be left feeling distraught and looking unprofessional. Simply make your point and ignore any negative behaviours from them in response.
  • Rude – Sometimes, the rude co-worker does not realise they are being rude. Take them to one side and let them know that you do not appreciate their comments and want them to stop. Do not retaliate with insults in return and consult your manager if the problem persists.
  • Disrespectful – Dealing with this co-worker will take a bolder, more confident approach. If they try to interrupt you, do not let them. Do not let them know any problems you may be having so that they cannot laugh at your misfortune and confront them in a calm and controlled manner if you know they are purposely disrespecting you.
  • Lazy – If a co-worker is not pulling their weight, you need to report it to their manager. It is the manager’s responsibility to motivate them into action. You should ensure tasks are split evenly between you and get the task delegation list in writing via email so that you can prove they were meant to complete a certain task.
  • Patronising – You may want to deal with the patronising co-worker differently depending on the circumstances. If they openly patronise you in front of other co-workers or clients then you need to confront them about it in a formal meeting with your manager. If it is fairly subtle, you can just laugh it off and ask someone else any questions you may have.

If a co-worker’s behaviour is particularly challenging or inappropriate you should report it to your manager straight away. You may need to involve HR and take more drastic action. No one should have their mood dictated by another person, but learning how to deal with difficult co-workers can be hard and can make you feel angry, anxious or nervous about going to work. Don’t suffer in silence, if the issue goes unaddressed it may get worse and you may end up exploding in an inappropriate way if you keep your feelings bottled up.

If you feel that your relationship with a co-worker is suffering because of your own behaviour, try talking to them about the issue and find some common ground. You may need to adjust your own behaviour; become more understanding and listen more to your co-workers to see if there is a way to resolve any issues.