March 24th, 2009
Are You Frustrated Dealing With a Difficult Colleague? Try These 7 things

Trust me; the people that we have to spend every day with can make a big difference to how much we enjoy our job. We spend close to 35 hours or more at work weekly and if you get stuck with a difficult colleague then it can affect your whole working attitude, morale and increase your stress levels. Naturally, our first instinct may be to just try and ignore the colleague or pretend that they are not there, but this simply won’t be possible in the long run. It is much better to try and confront the issue, sort the difficulties out so you can both move on and be happy.

Sometimes, we use the term personality conflict to describe this situation. The term implies that the problem is largely unfixable since it is unlikely that either you or the other person is going to change your personalities. It is better to be and get down to specific behaviours, not personalities.

Consider some background things:

  • The situations tend to occur over time.
  • Small annoying behaviours left unattended move to bigger more annoying behaviours.
  • Trying to ignore these things at the beginning has contributed to the problem.

Consider these basic principles:

  • In any working relationship, both people influence the other’s behaviour.
  • In almost every conflict situation, both parties bear some responsibility for where “things are at”.
  • Focusing on blame will just drive you crazy. The key to these situations is to focus on what YOU can do to make things better. It doesn’t matter who is at fault, if your concern is to make things better.
  • You have little control over the personality, and even behaviour of another person. Your best bet is to focus on your own behaviour change.
  • Ask yourself: What am I doing that contributes to this unpleasant situation, and what can I do to change what I am doing?

See these 7 things:

1. Find One Common Ground

It is just not possible to be everybody’s best friend and you are bound to come up against some personality clashes. However, at the same time, you can usually find something in common with almost everyone. Whether it is your family situation, hobbies or simply the weather, try and find that common tie with your difficult colleague. Doing this will help create a more relaxed relationship and hopefully break some of the tension between you.

2. Avoid Working Closely With Them

I don’t advocate this but if the situation is really bad and if it is affecting work, everybody and if you haven’t been able to form any kind of useful relationship with your colleague then try to avoid working closely with them. If you find them difficult then it is likely that they can sense the tension and would probably prefer not to work with you either.

3. Try and Celebrate the Differences
‘Just because someone isn’t walking the same path as you, doesn’t mean they’re going the wrong way.’ Sometimes people have very different outlooks on how something should be done, but they may both have valid points. Having differing ideas can actually make you work better as a team as you complement each other. If possible, try and see how your colleague’s difficult ways could work as an asset.

4. Now is the Time to Talk to Them
If you have tried to be nice, tried avoiding them and made an attempt to see how they could be an asset for you and you still can’t stand them, you need to talk to them. It’s probably the last thing that you want to do but sometimes clearing the air is the beginning of a much better relationship. Take them aside so you don’t embarrass them in front of colleagues and be honest about your concerns. Make sure you don’t put all the blame on then and instead concentrate on what you can both do to resolve the situation.

At a time when both you and the other person or calm, ask if you can talk to them (do it privately-this is between the two of you). Approach the situation in a non-accusatory manner (not easy if you are frustrated). Try something like this:

Follow his up with proper listening, so the other person knows that you are truly concerned and interested. When possible find things to agree on, and offer something..

Since you are clearly frustrated, it is likely that you are doing things that convey your frustration to the other person. You shouldn’t have to take abuse and smile, but neither should you be attacking or reacting in kind. It is important that you deal with things firmly, but nicely, and without any drama. No looking away, eye-rolling, no heavy sighing, no other activities. If the other person is rude or nasty to you, you can respond with quiet dignity and set limits regarding the specific behaviours, but if you react angrily, you will almost always make the situation worse.

5. Talk to Your Boss
Once you have tried all of these steps, if nothing is working then you may have to resort to talking to your boss about the situation. Make sure you have firm examples of when your colleague has been difficult and offer practical solutions about how you could make the relationship better.

The time to have dealt with this situation was early on, with a combination of politeness, firmness, and limit setting. In some situations, the conflict has become so polarized that you may need help in dealing with it, both practically, and personally, to change your way of looking at it. That is when to talk to your manager and explain the situation as objectively as possible.

Request help or suggestions, and focus on fixing the problem, and taking some responsibility for it. The outcome may be that the manager may bring you both together to talk about the situation and work out a plan, or even that you and the other person might get involved in mediation, or some other form of intervention.

6. Don’t involve everyone
Immediately afterwards, don’t make the situation one for public discussion or discussion with other staff members. This is disruptive to the organization, but worse, it will make it more difficult to fix the situation. When you gossip about someone else, you tend to focus on the worst parts, and paint that person in a negative way. That affects your thinking and actually shortens your patience, particularly when you get covert support from others.

7. Know that you have both rights and responsibilities in these situations.

Your responsibilities include:

  • Approaching the other person in a polite, problem-solving way to work things out.
  • Avoiding actions that make the situation worse.
  • The willingness to recognize that you have probably contributed to the problem
  • Listening to the other person rather than trying to convince or bully them.
  • Seeking help from others in a dignified, open and constructive way.

Your rights include:

  • Setting behavioural limits and consequences when nasty, abusive behaviour is directed at you.
  • The expectation that the other person will work in an open problem solving and courteous way.
  • An expectation that management will help, but may not be able to solve the problem without your cooperation and that of the other person.

Please note that there is nothing that will make you enjoy work less than having difficult colleagues. Try your best to find common ground with them and see the benefits of your differences. If that doesn’t work then talk to them about your concerns and how you can both work together to make the relationship better. If all else fails, approach your boss but make sure you have firm examples and practical solutions.

Do you have any other tips to share with us? Please let us hear from you.




Founder, Catherine's Career Corner. The career site empowering and inspiring ambitious candidates of all ages and professions to thrive and work smarter on their careers. Gladly helping you to explore your career at any stage.

One thought on “Are You Frustrated Dealing With a Difficult Colleague? Try These 7 things

  1. Hey, Catherine, thanks. I have a situation that I am dealing with now at work. I will take your advice and do these things.
    Apt blog by the way. Thank you.
    Nene from Canada

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