Everyone knows about that coworker—the person who makes you dread going to the office or signing onto Slack.
It could be a boss or a peer, or even someone who’s not on your immediate team. And while working remotely can bring a sense of reprieve, you still have to interact with these people on the regular.
According to data from Olivet Nazarene University, interpersonal relationships are the number one source of tension in a workplace. In fact, 96% of the respondents admitted to getting annoyed with coworkers on a regular basis, and 36% said they had changed jobs because of an annoying coworker.
If you’re thinking about changing jobs because of a difficult coworker, think again. Whether you’re confronting a problem head-on or just ignoring someone’s quirks, getting along with difficult coworkers is a soft skill that will help you go far in your career.
So before you hand in your two weeks’ notice, read through this article for some tips on how to get along with difficult coworkers.
Why It’s Important to Get Along with Coworkers
If you want to work at an organization that’s actually making an impact, odds are you’re going to work with difficult people. Highly effective people can often be disagreeable—after all, they’re busy getting s**t done and don’t have time for niceties.
In fact, if you consider yourself to be a highly effective person (or if you aspire to be one), then to someone else, you’re the difficult person to work with.
Part of being a professional isn’t avoiding conflict wherever it pops up. It’s learning how to manage conflict and use those moments to deepen working relationships. That way, everyone can focus on excelling individually, and the organization can excel as a whole.
That said, there are some lines that shouldn’t be crossed. If someone is abusive or toxic, it’s important to report that to the appropriate person in the company. And if they refuse to deal with it, then you should consider leaving.
7 Types of Difficult Coworkers in the Office
Not every difficult person is created equal. Some are easier to handle, and others aren’t. Here are seven of the most common—you’ll likely encounter at least a couple of these in your career.
1. The Bully
If you feel intimidated by or dismayed around a particular coworker, chances are you’re dealing with a bully. Nearly 54 million Americans have been targeted by a bully at work, so take heart: this is a relatively common phenomenon!
2. Negative Coworker
In most organizations, there’s that one person who doesn’t like their job—and wants to bring everyone down with them. Sometimes this isn’t entirely their fault (maybe their boss is particularly difficult), but these people can sap the life out of you if you spend too much time around them.
3. The Difficult Boss
Everyone has probably dealt with a difficult boss at some point in their career: they’re overbearing, micromanaging, incredibly demanding, and generally disrespectful. It’s a far cry from the competent, kind boss who genuinely wants you to succeed and will push you to do so.
4. The Slacker
If you work hard day in and day out, then a coworker who slacks off can be particularly annoying. The impact of a slacker on your work can range from low morale to holding up work that needs to get done.
5. The Scene Stealer
There’s always that one person—the one who takes credit for you or your team’s work. Generally speaking, these people are hiding some insecurity, and a good boss will spot them from a mile away.
6. The Know-It-All
We’ve all worked with someone who takes over conversations and dismisses other people’s input. These know-it-alls rarely listen, and their overall attitude is “my way or the highway.” These people rarely succeed for long within a good organization.
7. The Office Gossip
Gossip can be a good way for coworkers to bond, but it can also quickly turn into a hurtful activity that poisons the workplace. Unfortunately, the office gossip loves drama, and is willing to create it, to the detriment of getting work done.
7 Tips for Dealing with a Difficult Coworker
Now that we’ve covered common types of difficult coworkers, let’s dive into some practical tips for dealing with them.
Note that you’ll probably need to mix and match these depending on who you’re dealing with (i.e. you shouldn’t follow #5 for a Slacker). But each of these should provide good food for thought as you work through these challenges.
1. Confront the situation.
When conflict arises, confronting it head-on is usually the fastest way to resolve it. This should be the first tactic you consider. Granted, sometimes you may need to bide your time or approach it more strategically. And sometimes, there’s not a problem at all—it’s just a miscommunication (all too common in our remote-first world).
2. Listen to the other side.
Sometimes the source of the conflict is: you. That’s why it’s important to listen to the other person’s story and consider what you may have done to create or worsen the situation. That doesn’t mean you have to take everything they say to heart, but you should at least give them a fair shake before going in guns blazing.
3. Focus on your positive relationships.
Although one person can take up an undue amount of mental space, remember there are other people in the organization you like working with. Focusing on the positive relationships can help to put things in perspective, and remind you why staying at the company is the best option.
4. Talk to your boss.
If the situation escalates beyond something you can handle—especially if there is toxicity or abuse—take it to your boss. Sometimes they’ll intervene directly, and sometimes they can offer advice on how you can handle it yourself.
5. Accept their personality.
People have quirks. It’s a reality of working in an organization. Sometimes, the “problem” isn’t a problem after all, and you need to accept the other person for who they are.
6. Avoid gossip.
When conversations around difficult coworkers are constructive, they can be a powerful tool. But idle gossip does nothing except to gin up everyone’s emotions and make the situation worse. Avoid it if at all possible.
7. Limit your interactions.
If someone is absolutely unbearable and you can’t resolve the situation, try to limit your interaction with them. (Note: This really only works for someone who’s not on your immediate team.)
Final Thoughts on Dealing with Difficult Coworkers
It’s completely normal to have conflict, especially in a high-powered organization. The problem arises when:
- Conflict goes unresolved
- Small problems develop into big ones
- Genuinely unacceptable behavior goes unchecked
So if there’s an issue, see if you can handle it yourself. See if you’re the one who’s actually the problem.
Then if that doesn’t work, go to someone for advice. This could be your boss or someone else you trust in the organization. If that doesn’t work, then you should go to your boss and see what they can do.
But if any of the difficult personalities we listed above are allowed to persist, it usually means there’s a deep fault in the leadership or culture of the organization. At that point, you should consider moving on.
However, if you can mitigate the issues and keep your workplace from turning toxic, you’ll set yourself up to thrive in that environment, which can only boost your career prospects.
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