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5 Tricks to Make Dealing with Difficult Coworkers More of a Treat

October 30, 2023

By: Alaina Sims

Remember when you were a kid and went trick-or-treating on Halloween? Oh, the fond memories of fun-size chocolate bars and mini packs of candies. Sometimes you discovered a house that was giving out full-size candy bars, and you etched that house into your memory to go to every year thereafter. Some people even handed out things like glow sticks, small toys, or drinks (the colorful barrel drinks were always a favorite).

But invariably, when you got home to survey your haul, you came across one candy that you knew was destined to stay at the bottom of your bag, never to see the light of day. Or you might have feigned generosity and tried to pawn it off on your siblings or parents. What was that candy for you? Mary Janes? Bit-O-Honey? (No, they aren’t the same thing, and yes, I was just as surprised as you.) Don’t even think about saying candy corn — I’m firmly on Team Candy Corn.

Your colleagues at work are similar to a bag, bucket, or pillowcase of Halloween candy. You have peers who are like the ever-faithful, tried-and-true candies that you looked forward to every year; like that candy, these people never disappoint. Then you have one or two superstar coworkers who always go above and beyond, much like a full-size chocolate bar. You might have a few people on your team who are great at coming up with inventive ideas and seeing things from a different perspective; they are like the non-candy, but no less fun, toys and treats. But then there is that one person who brings down the party with their unwillingness to help, their negativity, or their sour demeanor — and not the good sour like Lemonheads.

How do you deal with this type of individual? Unlike that icky candy, you can’t unload your coworker on someone else. You have to find a way to work with this person in a peaceful, or at least tolerable, way.

Here are 5 tips for dealing with a difficult colleague.

1. Walk a mile in their shoes

Trying to understand your coworker’s perspective, and the life experiences that influence those perspectives, can go a long way in getting along with them. While it doesn’t excuse any undesirable behavior, putting yourself in their place may give you ideas on how to improve the rapport with your peer. It can also provide the opportunity to show grace and compassion. And growing empathy within your team is never a fruitless endeavor. It might just spill over to that difficult colleague too!

While you’re at it, examine your own behaviors and attitudes to see if you have been contributing to the difficulty in any way. Be realistic about how your reactions could be fueling the situation, and develop new, more productive ways to respond to your coworker. Most importantly, do not be goaded into unprofessional behavior, like gossip, yourself.

2. Talk with your difficult coworker

Perhaps your colleague is not aware of how their actions are coming across to you or impacting the team. Addressing the issue by having a calm, mature conversation could offer both your coworker and you some insights into your professional dynamic and give your peer (and possibly yourself) some ways to work on improving the relationship.

3. Understand and accept personality differences

Perhaps your teammate isn’t actually doing anything wrong, but you have personality clashes. Unfortunately, this is often an unavoidable part of work life — and life in general. While our personality differences can help foster synergy within a group, they can also cause discord. But they don’t have to.

Using a behavioral assessment can shed light on the various personality traits at play within your department and give you important insights on how to improve collaboration. Perhaps your blunt coworker isn’t trying to be curt or unfriendly; he just has a very direct, straightforward communication style and wants to keep meetings from veering off topic. Understanding these differences within your group can help you learn to navigate interactions with your peers in a more productive, less frustrating way.

4. Limit interactions

If you’ve tried numerous times to get to know your difficult colleague and form a positive working relationship but to no avail, minimizing the time you are around them might be helpful. Limit your conversations to those that are necessary to complete work assignments. You can (and should) still be pleasant and respectful, but foregoing the small talk and non-work chit-chat could make your interactions more tolerable.

5. Speak with your supervisor or HR

After you have exhausted all of your own efforts, asking for assistance from management or HR may be necessary. Be sure to document incidents with the difficult colleague including dates and specific details surrounding the occurrences.

Working with a difficult person is never easy, but learning to navigate the challenging professional dynamic is worth the effort — for you, for others on your team, and maybe even for the difficult colleague too. Here’s wishing you a successful, collaborative team that’s like a perfect Halloween haul with nothing but your favorite treats. And lots of candy corn!

Let Omnia help you make work life a little sweeter. Contact our trusted, knowledgeable advisors today to find out how behavioral assessments can take your team from good to great!





Alaina Sims

Alaina first joined Omnia in 2003 as an analyst and was sold on its mission from the start. So much so that, after a move and brief time away, she came back in 2013 and now works as the Senior Manager of Profile Analysis and Workflow. She writes and edits various Omnia products and is the resident “follow-upper” to help keep the department running smoothly. She is grateful for a role that marries her love of data analysis and the written word in a way that enables her to help clients find (and keep) productive, fulfilled employees.

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