Everyone has experienced a tense coworker relationship at some point in their career. Challenging colleagues can make work unbearable for everyone in the office. This article offers some useful tips that will help you communicate easier with difficult coworkers.

Difficult coworkers can be found at every workplace, especially when you work for a large company. Whether they are extremely lazy, whiny, or simply mean, dealing with them is not easy. Their attitude can affect your work performance and upset you on a regular basis. Luckily, there are some techniques you can put into practice to overcome these issues and create better work environment for all.

Learning to accept their flaws and trying to see things from their perspective is the first step towards improving your relationship. If this approach is not successful however, confrontation may be necessary. When a coworker becomes toxic and brings the whole team down, it may be time to confront them and come up with a plan together to mitigate the issue.

Start by looking at the problem with a positive attitude. Dealing with this worker will help you develop your interpersonal skills as well as practice your conflict management ability. We have a few tips that will help you.

Stay calm

Resist the temptation to lash out at a coworker. Do your best to remain as calm and levelheaded as possible – you don’t want to earn a reputation of creating conflict. If your coworker is behaving in an immature manner, simply ignore them. Keep in mind that other coworkers, your supervisor included, will notice how tactful you are when dealing with a particularly difficult person. Conversely, you won’t win any points if you make a scene in the middle of the workday.

Be open-minded

Consider things from your difficult coworker’s point of view: maybe he or she has been working very long hours and is feeling burned out; or maybe the boss really does have something against him or her; maybe that co-worker’s job hangs in the balance?

Try to dig deeper to discover what’s really hiding beneath his or her toxic behavior. Open-mindedness is key in conflict resolution, and by understanding where your co-workers are coming from, you’ll get better at anticipating and responding to their antics.

Develop a game plan

Defining common goals is the best way to resolve a conflict and reach a compromise. If you must work on a project together, talk to your coworker and settle on what you both want to achieve. You might have to motivate them along the way, but this tactic will help you keep them accountable for their work.

Anticipate obstacles

When you take on a new project, you likely come up with a risk management plan to foresee anything that might go wrong along the way. Use this approach when dealing with a difficult coworker, as well. Figure out what is more likely to set them off, then prepare to handle the situation. This way, any fits, moods or lack of motivation won’t catch you by surprise.

Despite this preparation, you have to prepare yourself for any obstacles that may arise during a confrontation.

Don't engage in negative behaviors

Dealing with a difficult coworker is challenging. Do you best to avoid engaging in negative behavior that may make matters worse. Don’t talk behind your colleague’s back, sabotage his or her work, or rally up your other colleagues to gang up. Avoiding any interaction with the difficult coworker is also a bad idea – shunning him or her will only amplify the tension between you.

Talk to your boss

If all else fails, bring the problem to your boss. Explain that you’ve tried to work out the situation on your own, but without success. Lay out exactly what you did and ask for advice; this will show your supervisor that you're handling the situation in the most mature way possible.

You can be the smartest person in the office. However, if you aren’t able to get along with your coworkers and develop healthy working relationships, you won’t get very far. Do your best to work with your difficult colleagues and offer them advice on how to overcome their issues. This way, you do your part in creating a more positive atmosphere at the workplace.

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Comment by Keith D. Halperin on February 26, 2014 at 12:09pm

Thanks, John. Negative coworkers  are a very strong argument for tele-work: the less somebody is around you, the less you're exposed to what you don't like. While I might be insufferable 40+hrs/week, you might be able to tolerate me 8 hrs/week...

Happy Telecommuting,



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