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How to deal with difficult coworkers
Illustration by Grey Vaisius

4 min read

How to deal with difficult coworkers

Dealing with difficult or outright hostile coworkers is never fun. Here are some tips to resolve conflicts and work towards a more professional working environment.

There may come a time in your career when you find yourself working with a difficult and even confrontational coworker. You may try to avoid them, but that’s not always possible when you work together. So, how do you successfully deal with difficult coworkers? How do you resolve difficult situations and make it bearable to work with them?

Here are a few tips to help you out.

1. Understand the situation

Dealing with a difficult coworker can be especially frustrating if you don’t know why they’re being difficult in the first place. Does their personality rub you the wrong way or are they purposefully trying to make you miserable?

Take some time to think about what’s happening. Is it only happening to you, or are other coworkers feeling the same way? Once you understand the reason behind the actions of your coworker, begin thinking of solutions. Is this something you can solve? Or, will you need help from your manager?

The one thing you cannot do, is nothing at all. Just ignoring the problem isn’t going to solve anything. Understanding the situation may help you find a solution that’ll make work a little more enjoyable.

2. Be kind

It’s not easy, but whether someone is unknowingly bothering you or purposefully trying to get a rise out of you, it’s best to be kind. Don’t indulge difficult coworkers by reacting to their comments or actions. Acting kindly may eventually lead to the coworker being kind back which will result in a much happier workplace.

3. Walk Away

If being kind to your coworker doesn’t stop them from making your day miserable, walk away. Do your best to avoid them whenever you can. If you don’t have to work with them directly, then minimize your interactions with them. Continue to be nice, but don’t be baited. It may be tempting to have it out with the individual who’s bothering you, but inevitably this’ll only lead to more problems. If tensions seem to be getting high or you feel yourself getting irritated, then walk away.

4. Set boundaries

If someone is being disrespectful to you, you have the right to ask them to stop. No one should be treated as a lesser individual. If you have to work with this person one-on-one, establish boundaries and communicate to them that you don’t want to be talked to or treated this way.

5. Talk it out

If you’re comfortable and the situation allows for it, talk to the individual who’s giving you a hard time. This conversation should be private and away from prying eyes. Don’t use this conversation to attack or provoke. Talk calmly about the problem you’re having. If the other person is willing, begin to find a solution. If your coworker is particularly difficult, they may deny that they’ve done anything, or they may not care at all. Try to reach a solution regardless of their attitude.

6. Listen

Usually difficult people are difficult for a reason and sometimes they just want to be listened to. If you’re having a hard time with one of your coworkers, try taking their feelings into account and listening to them. As you listen to them, use your emotional intelligence to better understand their situation. Understanding them will make you more aware of their triggers and what makes them behave in a difficult manner. Once you know this you may be able to avoid a problematic situation.

7. Have a support system

Have an outside support system and use it. It’s so tempting to vent your frustrations to others at work. Resist that temptation. Eventually, gossip gets around and it will come back to bite you. Instead, talk to family and friends that don’t have anything to do with your job. Vent to them and release all your frustration. These individuals will be there to buoy you up and help you think positively. Be careful that you don’t get stuck in a negative rut.

There’s nothing wrong with venting and being upset for a little bit. However, once you’re done, pick yourself up and use your support system. Your friends and family may even be able to offer up some solutions that’ll help you deal with your problematic coworker.

8. De-stress after work

If you’re dealing with difficult people, it can make work stressful and taxing on your mind and body. The best way to deal with that is to release some of that pent-up frustration after work. What helps you relax? Running, long baths, reading? Whatever it is, do it. Review your day and give yourself a pat on the back for getting through any uncomfortable situations. Dealing with difficult people can take up a lot of energy. After you’ve released the built-up tension, get a good night’s sleep. Everything is easier to handle when you’re well rested.

9. Raise the issue

If someone is being malicious towards you, you should immediately take the issue to HR or a trusted leader in your organization. If it’s an issue the other party may not be aware of, try the above methods first. If the problem persists, bring it up with your HR manager and work together to reach a solution. No matter what the issue is, you shouldn’t have to deal with it every day at work.


Working with a difficult person is well, difficult. Every situation is different, and you may find that some of these tips work for you while others may not. You’ll never know until you try. Don’t just put up with a problematic coworker, especially if they’re making your day miserable. You should always feel comfortable where you work.

Author Bio:

Micaiah is a writer for Built for Teams, an innovative HR product tailored specifically for small and medium sized businesses. Built for Teams offers HR managers and executives an intuitive system for managing critical employee data, reporting, org charts, and compliance for a complete suite of time saving HR tools. When Micaiah isn't writing, she enjoys spending time outdoors, cooking, and reading.

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Micaiah Sowards

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