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Top 5 Tips to Deal with Difficult Workmates

Updated on January 28, 2014


During my years of full-time white-collar employment since 2007, I've certainly had my share of being confronted by difficult workmates and managers. In general, anyone who's worked long enough has been faced with this situation and while some situations can been dealt with peacefully and in an amicable fashion, others might not be easy with more extreme cases resulting in escalation of the matter to higher levels of management, intervention by HR or even unwanted attention from the media.

Nevertheless, dealing with stress which arises from handling difficult workmates, managers or even subordinates doesn't have to be too hard, if certain steps are taken to nip certain behaviors and traits in the bud.

The Silent Treatment

This is usually the preferred option for many people in an office rather than open conflict or confrontation to deal with a difficult workmate, especially when they're new to the company or the team.

Despite how some people might prefer dealing with a situation like this head-on, the silent treatment is sometimes a preferred option as it not only gives the indication that you're the bigger person than to get involved in someone else's squabble - but it also proves to your manager that you are watchful about how to behave within a work environment (especially if it is a corporate one).

Difficult workmates can be difficult due to many reasons - they're probably just having a bad day, are testing how well you cope under pressure, are probably bullies or are just plain insecure - ignorance can sometimes truly be bliss and is usually the healthier and smarter option in the long run.

The Quiet Confrontation

Sometimes, you'd realize that the difficult workmate or bully is not backing off despite your repeatedly ignoring him or her with the intent they'll get the message you're not interested in their childish mind-games - you should try to resolve the situation privately and without much noise.

Depending on your relationship with this workmate, a short and to the point e-mail or perhaps a quiet conversation outside the confines of your desks usually does the trick - in this way, the matter has the potential to be amicably resolved without the need to escalate it any further.

What this also does is also probably strengthen a strained relationship which might work for not only the 'victim' but also the 'bully' who'll begin coming to terms with who they've been,

Escalating to your boss

When you realize that plain ignorance or quietly confronting your difficult workmate to stop their quips is not producing the desired result, the next obvious choice will be to escalate the matter to your immediate manager (who might then escalate it to the workmate's manager if they belong to another team).

This course of action should usually be used once you've exhausted more 'informal' approaches to resolve the situation as there're a few reasons why this tactic can backfire:

- Your boss, if not an objective person and shows favoritism towards certain colleagues including the one causing you grief, might not be very fair towards you in dealing with this situation

- Your boss might not be too sympathetic to how the issue might be personally affecting you and might just ask you to 'take it up the chin'.

- Your boss might, without any rhyme or reason, share the same feelings as your co-worker might about you and the escalation could mean further isolation.

If however, you are convinced that your manager is a decent person and will look at your situation objectively, you should by all means escalate the confrontation and bullying to them if it comes to the point you're unable to deal with it on your own terms.

Escalating to higher authorities or HR

Not a path I'd personally ever recommend taking, but not one you should completely ignore either.

Sometimes and in more rare cases one discovers that their plead for help is repeatedly going unnoticed and their attempts to resolve the matter using informal and diplomatic methods are also going in vain.

Ever noticed that your boss only seems to listen to and entertain certain people among your team despite all of you being equal? Ever noticed the boss refuses to acknowledge or hear what you're telling him or her? If these two situations or more sound at all familiar, there's a good chance you need to escalate the double standards and favoritism higher, possibly to higher levels of management or even HR - use the latter only if you have sufficient evidence that there's blatant unfairness taking place and make sure you document each and every moment you feel you've been treated or spoken to differently as you will be asked for sufficient proof of someone being difficult or unfair.

The benefit of this could be that you'll come out victorious with some formal performance management for people who've been causing you grief but the downside could be further chaos in your professional life due to a setback in your reputation as the whistle blower and the complainer.

Quitting and Starting Over

When all other options get exhausted, the very uncomfortable but final straw to draw is usually to request a transfer to another team or to quit.

I personally never recommend quitting just because you're unable to stand certain people around you - you should be way bigger than that; but I can also understand the psychological and emotional impact repeated bullying and confrontations can have on people at work, considering they have to travel there each and every day, risking the same situation again and again.

At the end of the day, your mental and emotional peace should trump everything else and if you're able to help it, leaving certain things in the past and starting afresh should be the way to go if nothing else seems to work - at the end of the day, you'd at least be taking some healthy life-experience with you.


Hopefully this article serves as a brief illustration of what one can do when faced with difficult situations or people at work.

Remember, it is never easy dealing with stress and conflict which arises from trying to pin down a difficult workmate or a work environment, hence its vital to weigh all your options carefully before exercising them so that you don't accidentally burn down any bridges.

Have you ever been faced with difficult workmates or situations? What have you done to resolve it?

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    • Hackslap profile image

      Harry 2 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Cheers Richard ..and thanks for the follow!

    • Richard1988 profile image

      Richard 2 years ago from Hampshire - England

      Ah difficult colleagues... The workplace plague. Great advice thanks :) voted up etc :)

    • Hackslap profile image

      Harry 3 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Cheers for the feedback temptor .. yup ..frequent whinging can alienate you further to complain once but in detail with all proof/facts on board ...

    • temptor94 profile image

      Ritu Temptor 3 years ago from India

      Truly awesome article! You have described every point in the perfect order :) It's true, one should avoid escalation as much as possible as complaining can sometimes backfire. Also, frequent complaints makes the boss take that person less seriously. Whenever I have faced a difficult colleague, I try to avoid getting into any work that would involve both of us working together. Least interaction means least trouble.

    • Hackslap profile image

      Harry 3 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Believe you me Au fait .I know that feeling well .... are you able to quit your job though? ..No amount of stress is worth staying somewhere

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 3 years ago from North Texas

      I have nothing but thorny workmates and mainly I try to go in, do my job, and leave again with as little fanfare as possible and as quickly as possible to avoid getting into conversations about anything at all.

    • Hackslap profile image

      Harry 3 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thanks for your feedback Flourish ..I can totally relate with your point my own organization I was aware of a repeat bully who had practically reduced at least 4 people around them to tears and the issue kept going for at least a couple of years .. eventually after official complaints ..the firm decided to not give this person their first ever year end bonus ..and the person's manager was disciplined too .. for lack of people management skills

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      I used to run into bullying allegations all the time as an HR investigator. Unfortunately, bullying is not against the law. However, if enough people report that a person is a problem employee and provide good facts, you can establish that the individual is a performance issue. Usually they've been allowed to behave that way a very long time. Or if you have a good HR person who can provide the bully a good raking over, that can help. (Better yet if that HR person has the bully's manager do it, providing written talking points!) Having once been bullied myself, I made sure that I helped bullies get the very candid feedback they need about their behavior and their career prospects should they continue their chosen path.

    • Hackslap profile image

      Harry 3 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      I still think you were the bigger person for using the silent treatment and keeping your head down Seejay ... but yes once the manager's against you's not left with too many options...

    • profile image

      Seejay 3 years ago

      I tried the silent treatment was then bullied for being aloof! Unfortunately the manager was not that good and I have to leave.

    • Hackslap profile image

      Harry 3 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      thanks for the feedback swilliams :) ... hope it helps with your situation (assuming that you're going through one)

    • swilliams profile image

      Emunah La Paz 3 years ago from Arizona

      This is an article that we all can relate to. The article gives great advice to fall back on when dealing with difficult people. I most likely will have to use this helpful information in a couple of minutes. Thank You! Voted up useful and interesting.

    • Hackslap profile image

      Harry 3 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      I'm glad your health has improved LM Hosler .. sometimes you just have to make the hard choices but then its all justified if its for the betterment of your health and emotional and mental balance ... thanks for your feedback ..

    • L.M. Hosler profile image

      L.M. Hosler 3 years ago

      Very good advice. I did quit and move on from my last job. For me, it was a good decision and has worked out well for me. There were other additional problems such as the hours, supervisor, slackers not doing their work as well as the difficult person. My health has improved since I left that job. I also worked another job for years with a few difficult people but used some of your strategies to deal with them.

    • Hackslap profile image

      Harry 3 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thanks for your feedback agaglia ... I've drawn some tips ...

      PS..A lot of my tips have been drawn from my own experiences..

    • agaglia profile image

      agaglia 3 years ago

      this was an informative hub on the topic. Thanks for the tips.

    • Hackslap profile image

      Harry 3 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      No probz vkwok! ..Glad you liked it

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 3 years ago from Hawaii

      This is a treasure trove of advice for the workplace. Thanks for sharing!

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 3 years ago from Minnesota

      Oh yes-great opportunities opened up for me once I left that toxic environment. It was the best thing I could have done.

    • Hackslap profile image

      Harry 3 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Hey Minnetonka .. Sorry to know you were left with the last choice possible .. but sometimes its experiences like these which open up better opportunities.. hope you had that opening too

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 3 years ago from Minnesota

      Great tips on dealing with difficult co-workers. I once left a job because I tried all the tips and nothing worked. I knew it was leave or continue being verbally and emotionally abused. I chose to leave when I saw nothing was going to change. Thanks for the useful article.

    • Hackslap profile image

      Harry 3 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thanks for the feedback guys .. yes I believe the quiet resolution's the way to go..but trust me...sometimes things DO NEED to be escalated higher ..

    • My Cook Book profile image

      Dil Vil 3 years ago from India

      Useful info, thank you for sharing.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Good counsel. Quiet confrontation would be my treatment of choice if the other person cooperates. Thank you.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Very comprehensive hub full of good advice for a difficult workplace situation. Thanks for sharing.