How You Can Work With (And Manage!) Difficult Co-Workers

Nearly everyone has that one person in their organization that they consider absolutely difficult.

It is also one of the reasons companies include “team-oriented” or “team-player” on their job descriptions as a qualification or skill an applicant must possess. 

This requirement is not to be confused with “liking everyone” or being “generally popular” amongst your coworkers. When an organization includes this on their job description they may be trying to convey they need someone who will put the company’s needs before their dislike for another type of worker or person. People who are able to do this generally have the stamina and patience to work through difference of opinions or techniques to reach an outcome that is beneficial for all parties (especially the company!) involved.

So how do you work with a difficult co-worker?

Try to Talk to Them

It is much easier to be angry or frustrated with people when they become a simple label in your mind (I.e. the stubborn one, the drama queen, the liar, the thief). By talking to them you may begin to humanize them. You may then have the opportunity to build a connection and see them in a different light.

Find Their Motivators

Small talk of course doesn’t work for everyone, but any insight into what their motivators might be may help you leverage that information. For example, I once worked with a co-worker that only cared about being included in the conversation. Whether it was their decision or not, whether it affected their team’s workload or not - it didn’t matter. As long as they had a seat at the table. Can you guess what my next move was? Yep, always giving them a seat at the table. In this case it worked in my favor most of the time, and they were more than willing to lend their team’s resources to help out mine.

Address Their Concerns

This could tie into finding their motivators, but takes it more on a day to day level. If you find that you are running into the same issue over and over again, maybe it is time to stop and ask them why this particular issue is causing them heartburn.

To use another real life example, when I was in logistics, we had an employee who would always become frustrated with how the pallets were stacked. Every day the employee would come in and become increasingly frustrated as the day went on. Finally, a new supervisor stepped in and asked what the issue was.

The issue was not with the employee’s “bitter attitude” (as some wrote it off) but rather the way the pallets were organized caused double the work and walking time for the employee. The employee was then consistently criticized for their slow performance. Once light had been shed on this issue, the team was able to structure the unload to stack pallets more efficiently.

Agree to Disagree

Of course, if all else fails you can agree to disagree. Sometimes, just acknowledging the tension is enough to move on to bigger and better things. If you are both aware of each other's’ boundaries, it also makes it easier to work within (or outside of) them. 

Having some trouble with coworkers currently in your space? Let's start a conversation about it and see if we can figure out a more specific solution for you in the comments below!