How to Deal with Difficult or Toxic Coworkers

How to deal with difficult coworkers

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?

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.

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.

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.

When Things Don’t Change

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, the difficult person may continue being difficult. It happens. If that’s your situation, there are still ways you can work with a difficult person without damaging your professional reputation.

— Don’t Take It Personally

Easier said than done, but try not to take things personally. Often difficult people treat everyone the same way. So, try to remember that it’s not about you. It’s about them and their behavior.

— Ignore Them

Whenever possible, ignore the difficult person. Go out of your way not to interact with them. If that’s not possible, consider only communicating with them in writing. Or, have a trusted coworker attend all of your interactions with that person. This can not only help keep your responses in check, but it can also act as a buffer. The difficult person may not be quite so difficult when it’s not just the two of you in the room.

— Let It Go

— Take It Up a Level

Finally, be prepared to get your manager or even HR involved. This should only be used as a last resort, though. But if you feel you’re out of options, bring it to the appropriate higher-ups. Use facts and figures, not feelings or emotions, to make your case. Just bear in mind that HR or your manager may not get involved and instead tell you that it’s up to you and the difficult person to “figure it out.”

Make sure to focus on their behavior rather than making it too personal

You may want to know if their behavior is intentional or not and work from there to either remedy the situation or talk it out. Depending on the type of coworker you’re dealing with, whether they take credit for your work or give you a hard time, you never know what may be the underlying reason for their behavior.

If someone is complaining too much and is stalling progress, you can redirect their perspective or change the subject while encouraging them to better their circumstances. There’s always a possibility that your coworker doesn’t mean to come off rude or condescending and doesn’t realize they are stalling or hurting you in any way.

However, if it becomes clear that there is a particular dislike between you, you can discuss why and how you can resolve the issues and decide the best course of action. Sometimes, opening up the conversation for positive discourse is all you need to clear up any discontentment.

There isn’t a complete workplace without the certainty of coworkers – therefore, you can’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and make any concerns known to ensure you’re able to work at the best of your abilities.


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