Dealing with difficult co-workers: Do’s and don’ts

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We have all had to work with people who are hard to get along with.

Maybe you have had colleagues who:

  • Complain a lot.
  • Don’t do what they say they will.
  • Don’t want to help others.
  • Talk a lot about what needs to be done.
  • Object to everything.

If you’re thinking of a way to handle these co-workers in a respectful way, here are some tips:

  1. Don’t take it personally

    There are many reasons why people might behave in a certain way. They could be tired, or going through a tough time. It’s important to remember that it’s not about you. Stay professional and focus on the job that needs to be done.

    For example, don’t say: “You’ve missed the deadline again. We need you to stop being lazy.” Instead, say: “When we miss deadlines, it has a big impact on our team’s productivity. I’d like to know what is making it difficult for you to finish your work on time.”

  2. Communicate clearly

    It’s possible that your co-worker doesn’t know that they are difficult. When you need to tell them, be direct. Speak in a calm voice and don’t make judgements.

    For example, if you’re dealing with a co-worker who doesn’t help others, you can say: “I noticed that you don’t respond when others ask for your help. This makes it difficult for the team to meet deadlines. It also makes it harder for us to be enthusiastic when you ask for support. Is there something we can do so you’ll be able to work with us?”

    Another good way to communicate with difficult people is to ask questions. This can lead to a resolution or at least a middle ground.

  3. Ask for support

    If talking to them does not help, talk to other co-workers about their experience dealing with the difficult person. You might learn some strategies that have worked for them in the past. If the difficult person’s performance is already interfering with your work, talk to their supervisor or manager. You can also ask for help from HR.

  4. Don’t give up on them

    Having to work with difficult people takes a lot of energy. If it’s possible not to be near them, do this for your peace of mind. But don’t be too quick to dismiss them. They can change. With a little patience, you can make the best of a difficult situation and maybe even gain a friend.

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