How to deal with difficult coworkers

Unfortunately, difficult people are in every workplace, and they come in many varieties. The person at the desk next to you could be so talkative that it’s hard for you to get your work done, or you could smell a coworker with poor hygiene from across the office. Instead of telling a person he or she smells bad, give a gift of perfume or cologne for Christmas. You can also use air fresheners around your office to make bad smells less noticeable.

If you don’t address conflicts with coworkers in some way, then you’ll just keep getting angrier. One of you could even get violent at work and be fired for injuring a coworker or destroying equipment. A difficult coworker definitely isn’t worth going to jail over. Apologize to your coworker for offending them and ask him or her how you can resolve the conflict. Don’t complain about difficult people to other coworkers, and only go to your boss or HR as a last resort. Otherwise, your manager could wonder why you couldn’t solve your own problem.

Tolerating whiners

These people have an excuse ready every time they miss a deadline or a day of work, and it happens pretty often. Many or all of these excuses could be legitimate, but no one wants to have to work through a weekend because a coworker felt a little under the weather. This is especially frustrating if you usually go to work anyway or work at home when you don’t feel well.

Let coworkers know you’ll need one or two days of notice to be able to finish your work and their work on time with no rush. Also, ask them to cover for you next time you go on vacation as payback, and don’t listen to complaints about how busy they are, how much their back hurts, or other problems. You may also have coworkers who loves to say bad things about your boss. If this happens, just say you need to get back to work, go to lunch, or make a trip to your car and walk away.

Teaming up with others to resolve problems with difficult people

A difficult coworker or a boss is more likely to listen to two or three people than just one. If you’re having trouble resolving problems with a coworker and you know other people also have trouble with that person, talk to them. Then you can go to your boss or your coworker with all the others at your job who’d like that person to change his or her behavior.

Standing up to the office bully

Some people think that criticizing others will help them advance their own careers, so they could insult your work during meetings or gossip about you to others. After an office bully criticizes you, ask him or her for better ideas. Most people who love to be critical don’t have anything constructive to say. Even if your bully gives a good idea in a meeting, it will show your boss that you’re willing to listen to anyone on your team. You can also try humor or light sarcasm, like putting your hand over your heart and making an exaggerated groan.

Dealing with a bad boss

Some bosses are incompetent, and they blame you when they forget to complete tasks. Others are abusive, and they constantly yell or threaten to fire people for minor offenses like being one or two minutes late. First, talk to your boss the same way you would with any other difficult coworker. If he or she doesn’t change, you might need to transfer to another department or even start looking for another job.

Understanding others

Just like some people are left-handed and others are right-handed, people can have many different personalities. For example, some are extroverts and like to brainstorm out loud, while others are introverts who prefer a quiet environment. You can understand other people and communicate with them better if you imagine yourself in their shoes.


Meditation reduces stress, lowers your blood pressure, and improves your immune system and your ability to concentrate. Even though you can’t control difficult people, you can change how you respond to them. You can meditate before or after dealing with difficult people at work. Lunch is also a great time to meditate for 5 or 10 minutes. Just close your eyes, take deep, slow breaths, and do your best to relax from head to toe. Visualize each breath as a flow of relaxing energy. This will help you stay calm around difficult coworkers.

Keeping things professional

Don’t talk to coworkers about politics, religion, or any other subjects they could be offended by or disagree with. Any coworker could become a difficult coworker if they decide they can’t stand you. Also, don’t date anyone you work with. If you have an argument or break up, it could stop you from getting along, and your ex could say bad things about you to other coworkers or your boss. He or she might even try to talk your boss into firing you.

Always remember that you’re at work, even if you’re at an office party. You can definitely have fun, but don’t drink too much or act too silly. Otherwise, coworkers could spend months making fun of you or give you an embarrassing nickname.

Staying away from scrutiny

Some bosses like to micromanage every aspect of every task instead of trusting employees to handle things by themselves. This often seems condescending, and it can lower productivity and morale. Show your boss that he or she doesn’t need to hover over you by finishing tasks early and then asking for more work or helping other people with their assignments. You can also ask your boss how you can improve or see if your boss is experiencing lots of pressure from superiors. Try to anticipate his or her needs and finish tasks before you’re asked.

Preventing procrastination

If you have to wait days for a response every time you send a particular coworker an email or ask them to do a task, set some deadlines and schedules. You can also just walk to their desk a few hours after you send that email. Using email is still a good idea because it automatically leaves a record of your conversation. If the problem gets worse, you can show this record to your boss.

Stopping credit stealers

Unfortunately, many people only care about themselves, and they won’t hesitate to take credit for someone else’s work. If you notice someone taking credit for your ideas in a meeting or company publication, make sure you speak up. Don’t share ideas or ask for opinions from difficult coworkers with this habit until you email your ideas to your manager. That way, you’ll have a record of when you thought of the idea. Remember that your coworker could have simply forgotten to mention your name instead of stealing your credit on purpose.

Talking to a friend

Sometimes it’s hard to decide what to do about a difficult coworker. Talking to a friend and getting some objective advice can be very helpful, especially if your friend works in the same field or knows your boss. Just make sure your friend can keep everything you say confidential, and don’t confide in anyone who works at the same place or for the same people as you.

Looking at yourself

Before you complain about a coworker, you need to make sure that you’re not the problem. Try to think about who started the conflict. Did you do anything to escalate it, like leaving a nasty note on your coworker’s desk or getting into an argument with him or her? To many other people in your office, you could be the difficult coworker. Instead of arguing or resenting your coworker, discuss your problems calmly.

Use these helpful tips to get along well with your most difficult coworkers. If you make an effort to resolve conflicts, you could even become friends.

Interested in workspace? Get in touch.