Dealing with a Difficult Coworker

We’ve all had a nightmare boss or coworker. Sometimes they can be avoided or dispensed of, but often they become just a fact of life, a necessary evil, at least for a time. How do you deal with such a situation?

Remember that they are human. If they haven’t always been so bad, it could be a personal issue. If you’re in a position to address the problem with them, do so, approaching them with empathy and a willingness to listen. That said, some people are just difficult (and a few are evil to their core) and cannot be reasoned with. With them, there are a few things you can do.

Find someone you can talk to outside of the office. Have a friend or family member that doesn’t mind listening to you gripe sometimes and that doesn’t have a personal connection to the situation except through you. This will keep your frustration from building up to the point of inappropriate outburst and keep your negative feelings outside of your place of business. If you do get closing to your boiling point, take a walk, buy a coffee, do whatever you have to do to calm down. While confrontation is sometimes necessary, you want to be prepared and levelheaded for any potentially difficult conversations. Otherwise you may say things you regret or that will put you into the position of bad guy.

On that note, always save your correspondence. If this person is truly problematic, this can serve as evidence in your favor and, at the very least, be used to disprove any false statements and give you a very satisfying feeling of vindication. If they are someone you feel could be dangerous or a legal problem, it is worth either bringing to the attention of your superiors or discussing with a lawyer, if you have access to one. If things get bad enough, do not hesitate to remove yourself from the situation. While the preferable result would involve you keeping your position, when all other routes have failed, your mental and physical health should take precedence. If you’re unhappy in your work environment, apply for other jobs. Making your reasons known to management if and when you leave will send a very clear message, and if they don’t deal with it, it is no longer your problem.

The best way to deal with a difficult person in the workplace is to diffuse the situation through interpersonal negotiation, remove the offender where appropriate and necessary, or persevere until you have the opportunity to make your exit.

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