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Working With Difficult Co-workers

Updated on May 15, 2010

Learning to Work With Difficult Co-Workers

Some people are just hard to work with. No matter what you do or say, they seem to argue with you, ignore you, or in some other way cause trouble for you. I call them difficult co-workers.

While it can be really frustrating to work with difficult co-workers, there is hope. Using assertive communication skills to handle the inevitable confrontations you will have with them, you can often resolve conflicts and find a way to work together.

You may never learn to like each other, but you can learn to work with difficult co-workers.

For regular communication, conflict resolution, team building, and parenting updates, check out my blog: The Recovering Engineer.

Photo from

Practice Self-Control

Probably the hardest part of working with a difficult co-worker.

I have had my share of difficult co-workers. I have had the person who whines all day about how bad their life is and how bad the company treats them. I have worked with the person on the verge of retirement that simultaneously avoids work and complains about being overworked. I have worked along side people who had body odor, bad breath, loud voices, argumentative spirits, angry outbursts, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. And the hardest lesson I have learned is this: I have to control me so that they don't.

I'll offer specific suggestions for working with difficult people in another part of this page. For now, I want to make this one point very clear. I don't like the lesson. It puts much of the burden on me. You may not like it either. I definitely understand. However, whether you or I like it or not does not seem to change its value.

When you lose it in a conversation, gossip about them, argue with them, ignore them, or criticize them; you supply the ammunition they use against you. Your behavior helps them to justify any bad behavior they might take towards you.

Step one - practice self-control.

Image from

Video on the Power of Controlling Your Emotions

Reminder: Control Your Response

You are the only person that you can control. No matter what they do, control your response. Self-control will give you greater influence with them.

Ideas To Keep In Mind As You Work With Difficult Co-workers - Not a step-by-step guide. Just some guiding thoughts.

  1. They don't usually have any direct control over you. Don't give it to them. Control your response so that you don't encourage their negative behaviors by giving them any ammunition to use against you or to justify their bad behaviors.

  2. Treat them with unconditional respect no matter what they do. Sarcasm, verbal attacks, and gossip will seldom help the situation.

  3. Protect your interests without violating theirs. Assertively confront their bad behaviors.

  4. Be prepared to listen to them. They may have a perspective or outlook that you have not considered. As Patrick Lencioni says, "people don't have a need to get their way as much as they have a need to be heard and understood." When you listen to them, they just may cease to be a difficult person.

  5. Focus most of your energy on clear communication skills. Many difficulties with other people stem from misunderstanding. Your effort to understand their perspective and to clearly state yours does not guarantee that they will cease being "difficult." Your efforts in this area will improve the odds of resolving your differences.

Contribute your thoughts on the subject here.

What do you think? What's your experience? What have you done that works?

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    • KReneeC profile image

      KReneeC 5 years ago

      I have learned how to control myself. I also have learned to distance myself from others when needed. Keeping it mature and professional is what I preach. Great lens and certainly one many others can read from.

    • profile image

      ih8mycow 5 years ago

      Self control is important but sometimes even that can be put in vain. One time, I was already so pissed at my co-worker that I sent him an anonymous email via this site called just so I can release the pent up emotions.

    • profile image

      traceysfolly lm 6 years ago

      Good advice for everyone. There are way too many difficult people out there!

    • TimothyArends profile image

      Timothy Arends 7 years ago from Chicago area

      Great "Self-Control" image! LOL

    • TimothyArends profile image

      Timothy Arends 7 years ago from Chicago area

      Great "Self-Control" image! LOL

    • RuthCoffee profile image

      RuthCoffee 8 years ago

      Good tips, we all have to deal with "difficult people" so we might as well learn from the start how to handle it.