I Hate My Colleague! How to Manage Difficult Coworkers

Linda and her colleague Joseph always disagree. What Joseph thinks is possible, Linda blocks. And what Joseph thinks can’t be done is ‘child’s play’ in Linda’s eyes. Everyone dreads working with the two of them.  It’s bad for both of them, and for their company.

Do you have  difficult coworkers? Someone you just can’t seem to connect with? Is working with them frustrating and stressful? For yourself, your other colleagues, and your company, it’s important not to let that conflict become all-out war.

Conflict is inevitable, Combat is optional’  -Max Lucedo

Avoid Office Combat

While you can’t control another person’s actions, you can influence them. Take steps to keep your disagreements from escalating into open warfare. Being in constant, public conflict with a colleague reflects poorly on you. As hard as it might be, you must find a way to work together effectively. Use these tips to de-escalate a difficult situation and improve your relationship.

Separate the person from the problem

Outside the office, this person has some strong positives: people who love him, different hobbies and interests with which she fills her time. Try to remember that everyone is more than the person you see at work. Look for their humanity. Ask what they do outside the office, and try to connect. Recognize that we are all just people, trying to do our best.

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Be clear about the goals

Make sure that you are both clear about your business goals. This may require that you lead with more honesty than you think he or she is showing. Do it anyway. Both of you should know what the goals are, stated clearly and concisely. Mention what doesn’t matter to you, too. If you need to reduce spending to meet a budget target, and you don’t intend to protect any specific area, say so. How can either of you achieve goals without knowing what they are?

Look for areas of agreement

Chances are, you can find at least one area in which the two of you can agree, even if it’s just that you both want a less stressful relationship. If your goals overlap at all, that’s another agreement to build on. This is a good tactic in any difficult negotiation, no matter what your relationship with the other person is like. Small steps towards a goal build momentum.  Remember, you’re both trying to do the right thing for the business.

Stay calm

Your job is not your entire life. Work is not a personality contest, a popularity contest, or a judgement of your inherent worth. It’s just work. If you lose your cool, you won’t think clearly and are less likely to make good decisions or have a positive outcome. So even when this person is driving you up the wall, stay calm. Take deep breaths, keep your body relaxed, and focus on your goal.

Work problems can be complex and multifaceted. In a big company, no one person has the whole picture; no one person can understand all the perspectives in detail. Colleagues have different perspectives and communication is not always completely smooth. No wonder conflicts arise!  Too often we get into the habit if trying to ‘win’ against difficult colleagues. Don’t fall prey to this temptation. Learn to work with them instead. Take the high road and you’ll come out with your self-respect and your reputation in

Marne Platt

Dr. Marne Platt is the President of Fundamental Capabilities and the author of 3 books (so far): Living Singlish: Your Life, Your Way; Professional Presence; and PREP For Success. Originally a practicing veterinarian, she built a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry. She founded Fundamental Capabilities to ‘pay it forward’ by providing career development workshops and coaching for women. ‘Living Singlish: Your Life, Your Way’ is an ‘older sister in your pocket’ packed full of advice for young women on building their own independent and exciting life. 'Professional Presence' and PREP For Success' help you strengthen your spoken and unspoken communication and leadership presence.