How to Get Along with Difficult Coworkers

There are a lot of reasons to be on good terms with the people at your work. To start, work is more pleasant when you're around friends rather than nemeses.

Getting along with colleagues also shows the bosses that you are someone who works well with others -- and that shows them you can handle promotions to better positions. Everyone encounters difficult people on the job occasionally, but there are a few things you can do to improve your relationships with coworkers. The next time you meet someone who is mean, rude, or just plain doesn't seem to like you, try these tricks:

Be nice.

It's possible the person who comes off as mean and disagreeable is just having a bad day or doesn't even know they're coming off as "difficult." While you could draw their attention to the problem by talking to them about it or simply by being rude in return, the most efficient way to tackle the problem without creating more problems is to treat your coworker with the respect and kindness you'd like to receive in return. Most people will mirror how you treat them.

If the situation does not improve, then:

Ask a trusted friend or colleague if they've had a similar problem. Particularly if they know the person in question, they might be able to lend some insight on how best to deal with them. I once asked a colleague about another coworker who was always abrupt with me and seemed to hate working with me. It turned out she was rather curt with everyone because she was so focused on keeping projects on schedule, but she was also great at her job. When I learned not to take her communication style personally -- and we discovered we both had the common goal of keeping our projects on track -- we ended up getting along really well.

If the situation does not improve, then:

Ask your "difficult" coworker about the latest situation in a one-on-one conversation. Avoid making overarching generalizations such as, "You always say rude things to me," or, "You never like my ideas." Instead, de-escalate the situation by being specific and non-confrontational. If your coworker always seems to shoot down your ideas when you work on projects together, rather than ask, "Why do you always treat me like I'm stupid?" the next time the issue crops up say, "Okay, I've only had those four ideas so far. What have you got?" and take an honest look at his suggestions. Handling these situations on a case-by-case basis helps to avoid having a blow-out argument later on.<

If communications between you and your coworker still don't improve or they get worse:

It's time to escalate to your boss. This is not the tack to take for minor differences in communication. If your coworker simply doesn't say "hi" every time you say "hi" to him in the hallway, chalk it up to a difference in personality. Even if he is downright rude, if you can avoid talking with him and working with him, just do that. Bosses would prefer not to get involved in minor squabbles between employees, and simply not being able to get along with someone can make you appear difficult to get along with too.

Escalating the situation to your boss should be reserved for hostile work environments that make it nearly impossible to do your job. When you go to your boss, explain the specifics of the situation and that you are escalating to him because you aren't sure what else to do. It's possible other employees have had the same complaint. DON'T count on the difficult coworker getting fired based on your testimony. Expect to sit down in some kind of mediation with him, most likely in front of Human Resources. All the more reason you should try talking to the difficult coworker first, rather than taking the chance of surprising him with formal complaints about his behavior.

Most problems with coworkers can be mitigated with step #1 alone. Remember that not everyone is as aware of their behavior and communication style as you might be. Sometimes all it takes is a little time to get used to each other to create a happy working relationship. If this isn't the case and you encounter a truly toxic colleague, sometimes the best thing you can do is avoid working with them. If you've tried all four steps and the difficult employee is still making every day at work painful for you, odds are he will never be fired and you should try transferring to another department. If enough of your coworkers leave to flee the toxic employee, your boss might finally get the message that he is bad for business.

Carissa Doshi is a business writer and the president of Gen Y Media Group. She gives career advice and blogs about her experiences on You can also follow @CarissaDoshi onTwitter.

More from Career development

2nd Life

This inspirational film is now up for an Oscar.…

Jamael's Story, empowered by Goodwill!

Watch Jamael's story and see how #Goodwill #empowered him and got him #CareerReady…

"How about that cityname sports team?"

For non-conversationalists and wall-flowers among us, going to social events where networking with new people is important.…

Join the discussion

GoodTemps article comments powered by Disqus