How to Deal with Difficult Co-workers

Over my career, I spent a lot of time working with managers and supervisors to figure out solutions on how to deal with difficult employees. As a training director, I've taught classes on presentation skills, conflict management, and interpersonal communications. Still, everyday, I see managers grow increasingly frustrated when dealing with difficult co-workers and employees.  It's critically important that managers and supervisors take the high road when dealing with difficult employees. They should stay positive and professional at all times.

I've learned through trial and error and management theories some critical steps you can take to manage difficult co-workers and employees.

  •  Issues: Investigate the situation and determine if there is even a real issue at hand. Many times, you will find that difficult co-workers are troubled by situations outside of their professional work environment. If there is no professional issue at hand then you are not obligated to address their behavior. If however, it is unavoidable, sometimes it's important to point this out to your co-worker. You can simply state that you don't see any professional issue and if they have a personal problem perhaps they should see HR or talk to someone about it who can help address it.
  • Questions and Listening: Many times, aggravated and difficult co-workers are simply looking for someone to listen. If this is the case, I advise managers to ask open ended questions, then sit back and just listen. If the co-worker or employee needs to vent, these open ended questions will allow them to do so. It will also clear the way for you to have a more reasonable and professional discussion with them. We all get stressed; sometimes we just need someone to listen.
  • Manage Expectations: As a manager you have goals that need to be achieved. For employees and co-workers who are difficult to deal with, sometimes the best thing to do is reset the scope of what you are trying to accomplish. Make it clear why they are important to the team and what is expected of them. Resetting the framework will help them understand their importance and why they need to work together with you and other members of the team. If you find this does not work, then the choice is yours as to how you should proceed with the project. You may need to request a replacement or create a work-around solution for this difficult person.

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Comments 2 comments

loriamoore 5 years ago

After 20+ years as a manager, I don't really ever want to manage employees ever again.

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surfcaster2010 5 years ago from Northeast USA Author

I know it can be frustrating, but for some they just don't have a choice. It takes a lot of patience to stay cool under this kind of pressure.

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