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How Can I Deal With A Difficult Co-Worker?

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Updated March 19, 2012

Question: How Can I Deal With A Difficult Co-Worker?
I get regular forum posts asking wht to do with difficult co-workers. In fact, in a recent poll on this site, roughly three in four respondents said that someone at work is making them miserable! Whether it's The Office Gossip, The Slacker, or another type of difficult co-worker, it seems that there's one in every office! What's the best way to deal with them?
Answer: While people are different, there are some basic universal options for dealing with difficult co-workers. You can try one or more to improve your situation:
  1. Go To H.R.- Whether you have a formal Human Resources department, or just one person who supervises everyone, there should be someone who's 'in charge' of employee peace-keeping. You can document your concerns and take them to this person. If you do, be specific about what is upsetting you. For example, don't say, 'This person is driving me crazy!', say, 'This person habitually asks me to do her work while she visits chat rooms', or whatever the case may be. Without making personal attacks, calmly state the behavior that's bothering you, and ask if something can be done.
  2. Address The Offending Party Directly- The next time Your Nemesis does something that you object to, in an assertive (rather than aggressive) way, speak up. Politely, but firmly, say that you don't appreciate the off-color jokes, don't want to do their extra work, or tell them whatever else is on your mind. You may not get a positive response at first, but you may. And you'll also get the benefit of speaking your mind, and will at least get the message out there for everyone's consideration.
  3. Let It Roll Off Your Back- If the problems don't affect you too strongly, you may choose to get better at ignoring them. This may seem difficult at first, but there's something to be said for choosing your battles. If you are dealing with someone who tells your secrets around the office, stop sharing them. If you're dealing with someone who has offensive body odor, stay at a comfortable distance. Not everything can be ignored, but by focusing on other things, some problems can bother you much less than you would think.
  4. Look For A New Job- If you've talked to your co-worker, human resources, and everyone else there is to talk to, you can't live with the problem, and nothing else can be done to change it, and this person causes you significant daily stress, you may consider changing jobs. It's sad if things have to come to this, but there may be a better job out there for you, and you wouldn't have been seeking it out if you didn't have a difficult co-worker prompting you to make a change. There are potential positives in every situation. The trick is to find them.

Learn more about stress and stress management with these ongoing stress management resources.

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