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10 Professional Tips on How to Deal with Difficult Coworkers

10 Professional Tips on How to Deal with Difficult Coworkers
Bitrix24 Team
January 20, 2023
Last updated: April 5, 2023

Table of Contents

  1. Use language and tone to deescalate the situation
  2. Take time to understand where they’re coming from
  3. Focus your energy elsewhere
  4. Work on accepting your situation
  5. Understand your own triggers and behavior
  6. Avoid the gossip
  7. Raise your concerns with a supervisor
  8. Offer constructive steps for improvement
  9.  Keep detailed records of every attempt you make to resolve issues
  10. Create workflows for mediation and conflict resolution

You might be a social butterfly in your social life, but learning how to deal with difficult coworkers in the office is a different ball game altogether. 

You're in close contact with your colleagues for a large chunk of every working day, so you can't bury your head in the sand and hope the problem will go away. Fail to act and small rifts will quickly grow into disruptive forces that can seriously affect your team’s productivity

That's why we've created a list of tips that will lower your stress and cut down on time lost to conflicts in the office. We'll discuss how to handle difficult coworkers, including the personal qualities needed to prevent disputes from escalating as well as the strategic initiatives you can put in place to clear up conflicts as soon as possible. 

1. Use language and tone to deescalate the situation

When you're dealing with a volatile personality, carefully choosing your words — and how you deliver them — is of utmost importance. One wrong word or an aggressive response can embolden difficult coworkers and justify their position. 

So here are two top tips for how to deal with difficult coworkers with the power of your voice:

  • Speak from your own experience of the situation and avoid using an accusative “you”. For example "I feel very frustrated when I can't focus for long periods of time". 

  • Refer to specific behavior — don’t link it to their inner being. "The way you interrupt me stops me from producing my best work" is better than "you're so annoying and can't stop talking".

Being responsible about your language and mannerisms is a leading mediation technique that demonstrates how to handle difficult coworkers at all levels of the situation.

2. Take time to understand where they’re coming from

Much of the time, the secret for how to deal with difficult coworkers is simply listening to them speak. Everybody wants to vent and be heard every now and then, and shutting them down is only going to exacerbate things.

But what’s more is that it’s all-too easy to engage in an argument without really understanding what the other party is saying. It’s very possible that you’ve simply misunderstood their point, and things are already so out of control you can’t calm them down again.

As a final point, it’s impossible to negotiate and reason with someone if you don’t know where they’re coming from. By understanding their perspective, you are far more likely to come to a win-win resolution.

3. Focus your energy elsewhere

It’s not easy to switch off your emotions in an instant. When you feel you’ve been wronged or that someone is being irrational, it’s totally natural to feel angry. 

But while you can’t simply ignore your anger, you can choose to spend more time with those who bring you joy. It’s a positive step to not feeling overwhelmed, and one of the easiest ways to make life easier for yourself. 

Think about the people and things that bring you happiness in life. It could be a sport, yoga, a good book, or a walk with Sandra from accounts. Directing your attention in this way is even more important when you're feeling drained by your work situation. When all you want to do is curl up in a ball and binge-watch Netflix, make an extra special effort to do what you love and you'll have taken one step toward controlling your own happiness. 

4. Work on accepting your situation

Sometimes, when you’re finding it difficult to work with someone, the best tactic is not to face it head on, but to take a more Zen approach and to let things slide. 

This might sound like quite a defeatist attitude, especially if you’re reading this pumped up on adrenaline. But in fact, acceptance is an essential part of learning how to deal with difficult coworkers. We’re not saying you should roll over and put up with poor behavior, but while you’re working on practical ways to improve your situation, it’s wise to expect difficult events and prepare for them. 

From a psychological standpoint, acceptance removes the feeling of shock, bewilderment, and exasperation you feel when your colleague is being difficult. It’s perhaps easier to understand by comparing the situation to raising a toddler. If you leave an enticing looking tin of paint open on the carpet, you can’t complain if when the child tips it over. 

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5. Understand your own triggers and behavior

Here, we're moving away from what difficult coworkers do and focusing more on your own reaction to it. It is an introspective method where you consider how to deal with difficult coworkers through self-analysis. Rather than immediately going to anger, consider what exactly bugs you about their behavior. Do you feel they are unfair, lazy, or rude? 

So many points on this list share a common thread: Not letting the situation defeat you. Clearing up exactly what sparks a stress response is a first step to removing the trigger altogether. But understanding your triggers not only helps you in dealing with difficult coworkers, it also helps you reduce stress and better manage your emotions, 

When it’s difficult to work with someone, it's rarely because of something personal. Therefore, you can take it as an opportunity to grow as a person, which also takes the sting out of your frustration. 

6. Avoid the gossip

Let's not lie, there is a real comfort in gossip. You can test the waters of public opinion and get assurance that you're not going crazy. Gossip has historically been a way of making strong social connections, but it can easily get toxic and you'll soon find you are the colleague that people are concerned about. 

So unfortunately, you have to resist the urge to gossip if you want to stop an isolated conflict spilling over and disrupting the group. Avoiding gossip is how to deal with difficult coworkers 101 and one of the easiest ways to maintain dignity and respect in the workplace. It doesn't matter who started your conflict, if you're seen to be fanning the flames, you'll quickly lose the support of your team. This doesn't just apply to disputes you're personally involved in either. As a responsible colleague, you have to play your part in extinguishing toxic chit chat. 

So in summary, yes, gossip is tempting, but save it for people outside your work team. 

7. Raise your concerns with a supervisor

Nobody should ever have to suffer in silence and it's always best to make a grievance known early so you have evidence to refer back to if things escalate. Ask your manager for a meeting and give them a heads up on the subject matter so they can come prepared.

In the meeting, explain the situation and get advice on how to deal with difficult coworkers. It's likely that your HR department is trained in conflict resolution, so it's always worth reaching out for help. It’s a great way of covering your back too. You never want to be asked “why didn’t you say something earlier”.

Never feel like you're causing needless problems when you raise issues about a coworker. It's not just you who benefits: managers and HR departments want to know about potentially toxic situations and fix them before they get out of hand. 

8. Offer constructive steps for improvement

In a list of how to deal with difficult coworkers, it's easy to immediately focus on toxic behavior and unproductive conflict. But not all difficulties are so intense. 

Perceived laziness is incredibly frustrating for managers who just want to get a job done, but the solution is rarely to start shouting and expect a positive response. Causes of procrastination are wide and varied, including fear of failure and problems outside of the office. 

That's why it's important to avoid going in all guns blazing and take a more compassionate approach. Start with a private conversation about their estimated time of delivery. Always remaining polite and caring, ask if there is a reason for the delay and if there is anything you can do to help. You might find that they haven't fully understood the task assigned to them but don't feel confident enough to ask for help. On the other hand, it could be family troubles that are leaving them exhausted and distracted. In either case, a structured plan for how to get them back to their best is the top priority. 

9. Keep detailed records of every attempt you make to resolve issues

You never want to be in the position of escalating a problem to HR and realizing you have no evidence of what has happened in the past. Exasperated cries of "she does it all the time" or "it's just everything about him" may be honest, but they're unhelpful for a fair resolution. However, with a bit of forward planning, you can present a complaint with total confidence in the legitimacy of your argument. 

You don't want your note taking to occupy too much of your time, effort, or headspace, so create a simple document and restrict access to it so no prying eyes can find it. Then, whenever there's a flashpoint, you can note it down and let it go. 

Our top tip is to use a cloud-based document on a platform that comes with a mobile app. This means that when you get a jolt of anger-induced adrenaline just as you're trying to go to sleep, you have an outlet to transfer your frustration from your mind to a practical use. 

10. Create workflows for mediation and conflict resolution

All experts on how to deal with difficult coworkers agree that fairness and structure are at the heart of success. 

The first way a structured process helps is that it gives toxic people less of an opportunity to claim that they are being treated unfairly. As part of your onboarding process, go through the steps of your mediation, conflict resolution, and disciplinary workflows so everybody is aware of the standardized approach.

However there is a double benefit at play here. From an organizational standpoint, difficult coworkers can cause critical legal issues to the business if they go through a labor disputes court. Having a good amount of written evidence puts you in the best position to solve cases quickly and effectively so you can get back to what you do best. 

When it comes to dealing with difficult coworkers, structure is everything. From writing down evidence and record-keeping to formalizing policies and creating plans of action, you need a user-friendly platform that takes any undue stress out of your work. 

Bitrix24 has become that go-to platform for organizations of all industries across the globe. Combining a powerful set of business tools all in one place, you can learn how to deal with difficult coworkers like a pro, rather than scrambling around and making it up as you go along. 

If that sounds like the kind of boost your company needs, sign up for Bitrix24 today and see for yourself how tech transforms teams


How do you handle a difficult co-worker?

Some of the best tactics to handle a difficult coworker are:
  • Reflect on why their behavior affects you so much
  • Don't take it personally or let it occupy a large portion of your head space
  • Discuss the issues in a calm, non-antagonistic manner
  • Speak to superiors or HR for help Keep records of all the difficult behavior

What are the signs of a toxic coworker?

  • Some of the most common signs of a toxic coworker are:
  • People feel anxious speaking to them
  • They are confrontational and aggressive at work
  • They spread a feeling of dissatisfaction with their role or tasks
  • You can't trust that they are being truthful
  • They are keen to start and continue gossip

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