I just started a new job, and everything's been great... except for one thing. I have one very difficult coworker. I just cannot seem to get along with this person and I find myself feeling upset just thinking about interacting with him. Do you have any advice for dealing with difficult coworkers?

It can always be a bit of an adjustment when starting a new job. It takes adjusting to the new environment, the new responsibilities, and your new coworkers. While it can be difficult and feel like a lost cause, it's crucial that you learn to deal with difficult coworkers to allow yourself to be productive at work and thrive in a positive environment. 

There's plenty to unpack here, so here's a preview of what we'll cover:

The importance of knowing how to deal with difficult coworkers

8 strategies to deal with difficult coworkers

Types of difficult coworkers

The Importance of knowing how to deal with difficult coworkers

Most people have to deal with at least one difficult coworker in their life. Knowing how to deal with this difficult coworker is a key component in strengthening your conflict resolution skills and developing your ability to overcome adversity. On the flip side, not knowing how to deal with these difficult coworkers will make me so much more difficult for you to focus on your work and enjoy your job overall. This could lead to you losing your job due to poor performance or you deciding to quit because the relationship between you and the difficult coworker is unbearable. Knowing how to deal with difficult people or situations goes beyond work, this is an essential life skill.

8 Strategies to deal with difficult coworkers

Here are 8 strategies to help you deal with difficult coworkers. Try them out, and see which one or ones work best for you to handle the situation!

1. Avoid difficult coworkers.

This one might feel like a no-brainer, but it's worth considering and actively trying out. Limiting the amount of time you spend around or interacting with the difficult coworker can help to de-escalate the situation. Think of it as limiting anything you're not too fond of; I don't like broccoli, so I don't eat it often but I can handle it in small doses. By limiting the time you spend around this difficult coworker, you may realize that you can handle their presence in smaller doses of time. While you’re "avoiding" your difficult coworker, spend time around the coworkers whom you do enjoy. Be sure not to be alienating or too obvious about your avoidance.

2. Talk to a supervisor.

If your difficult coworker is not complying with company policies or they are preventing you from adequately doing your job, it's time to talk to a supervisor. You'll want to make your supervisor or your Human Resources Department aware of the issues between you and your coworker. Before presenting the issue, be sure to keep a record of the adverse behaviors of your coworker. It is both your supervisor’s and the HR department's responsibility to find a resolution to your conflict and help make you feel comfortable and productive at work.

3. Stay positive.

In situations like these, it's in your best interest to not let the negativity consume you. While it is easy to focus on the challenges with your coworker, it's important to try to remain positive. To do this, remind yourself of the things you love about your job, perhaps the reason you accepted the position in the first place. Staying mindful of the positive things at work can help to alleviate the negativity surrounding your difficult coworker situation.

4. Don't get personal.

When dealing with a difficult person in general, it's easy to get personal. Getting personal can mean assassinating their character, being spiteful, or becoming disrespectful toward them. These are all behaviors you want to avoid when dealing with a difficult coworker because getting personal will only antagonize your coworker and escalate the situation. Instead, try to remain objective and exhibit a calm, respectful demeanor - even when it's hard to do so!

5. Have a productive conversation.

Perhaps the easiest solution may just be to have a normal, straightforward conversation with your difficult coworker. Sometimes confronting the situation is all you need to do. When doing so, it's important to make clear how their actions make you feel. Do this by using "I" statements rather than "you" statements. For example, you could say something like this: "I feel that your behavior makes it difficult for me to focus." With this statement, you are allowing them to understand your perspective without it feeling like an attack.

6. Reflect on your own actions.

You know the saying, "it takes two to tango," well it can also take two to have a difficult coworker situation. You might be so caught up in the negative aspects of your coworker's behavior that you aren't acknowledging problematic behaviors of your own. When your difficult coworker did something that upset you, think about how you responded or reacted. Also, consider what you may have done before they displayed the upsetting behavior. It's not unlikely that both of you have fallen into a cycle of negativity and are merely feeding off of each other's adverse energy. So, the next time you encounter this coworker, treat them with kindness and compassion, and hopefully, they'll do the same in return.

7. Get to know them.

We often dislike the things we are unfamiliar with. Ask yourself, "do I really know this person?" Chances are your answer is, "no." It might be worth simply taking time to get to know your difficult coworker because learning their background and life challenges will give you a better understanding of their actions and personality. Getting to know them can also help you gain a new sense of compassion, which may be all you need to mend this working relationship.

8. Consider their executive function challenges.

​​As an extension of getting to know this difficult coworker, you might be mislabeling them as difficult due to your lack of understanding of their executive function challenges. Does this difficult coworker often struggle to complete tasks, show up late for meetings, or misplace important items? It's natural for these things to upset you and even affect your ability to work proficiently. Yet these are all signs of executive dysfunction. So, instead of passing negative judgments onto your coworker, try being their accountability buddy, modeling how you stay on top of deadlines, organize your materials, and be punctual. If this doesn't seem to work, it might be worth sharing information with them about executive function coaching.

Types of difficult coworkers

With interpersonal relationships being among the top reasons for tension in the workplace, it's a good idea to learn the most adverse types of work personalities and how to deal with them. So, here they are:

The Slacker

You'll know them when you see them, and chances are you've already run into at least one in your career. This is the coworker whose priority is doing the bare minimum day in and day out, never taking that extra step to help the company achieve its goals. With this person, you'll want to be conscious of whether or not the slacker's poor performance is affecting your work.

The Know-It-All

Here's another self-explanatory type of difficult coworker. This is the person who monopolizes conversations, invalidates ideas and feedback from others, and is overall controlling at work.

The Office Gossip

While it's likely that this person is using gossip as a way to bond with coworkers, excessive gossip can create a hurtful work environment, full of resentment. This person thrives off of drama and can cause the workplace to feel unprofessional and hostile.

Now that you've got some strategies to help you deal with difficult coworkers, along with a few types of difficult coworkers, it should be a bit easier heading back to work tomorrow! Try out each of the strategies explained above and see what works for you. You may need to use different methods for different types of difficult coworkers.

Justice Abbott

Written by Justice Abbott

Justice Abbott is a Content Marketing Associate for Beyond BookSmart, contributing to the marketing department’s efforts to promote executive function skills as a pathway to confidence and personal success. Prior to joining the Beyond BookSmart team, Justice was as a Marketing Assistant for Germono Advertising Company, working closely with small businesses to redirect their social media marketing efforts and increase brand awareness. She’s earned her Bachelor’s Degree in English from Towson University, with a writing concentration.