How to Deal with Difficult Co-workers

Confronting Difficult Co-workers

If you're having trouble dealing with an irritating co-worker, it helps to be specific about what's bothering you. Often, a person is perceived as difficult not because of what they say, but the way they say it. There is a huge difference between, "I need you to do this … so try not to screw it up," and, "I need you to do this … and I know you'll do a great job." Still, there is no real substantive difference in what is being asked. It's simply a matter of management style, which in this case amounts to boorish versus highly effective. If you can keep that in mind, it makes the affront a lot less personal [source: Krell].

Another helpful step toward resolving conflict is to analyze your role in it. Are you particularly sensitive about an issue that the other person has honed in on? Or, could you have done something to provoke hostility or some other type of inappropriate behavior in him or her? Understanding these issues can help you honestly examine ways in which to fix the problem [source: Webne-Behrman].

Changing the way you approach a disagreeable co-worker is another smart strategy for resolving conflict. If you've been quite chummy in the past, do your best to keep things "strictly business" for a while. Your chilliness may be enough to send the relationship down a different path. On the other hand, humor can be an effective way to deflect another person's simmering hostility. A quick joke in response to an affront may disarm the offending co-worker and prevent his or her antagonistic behavior in the future.

Once you've analyzed your relationship with the irksome office mate, you may conclude that your best defense is to confront him or her. Don't feel bad about this -- confrontation can be scary, but it can also lead to better understanding if it's done tactfully. Be careful not to get too emotional, as this is a serious professional faux pas. Just state your case in the most rational way possible and allow the person to respond in kind. Remember that having a frank conversation with a difficult person is most often the best way to improve the relationship [source: AllBusiness].

On the other hand, event the most diplomatic tête-à-tête can leave a relationship strained. If so, it may be time to for some practical strategies for coping with your annoying associate, which we review in the next section.