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How to deal with the difficult colleagues

They are in each company: Difficult colleagues! Avoiding them is no option, you must co-operate. So what to do? Here some useful advices which might help you forward.


Define the problem

Why is your colleague acting the way he / she does? Is there a problem? What is causing the problem? How can we deal with the problem. One should realise that nobodies aim is to be difficult. There always is a reason. Finding the reason and dealing with it, might prevent a lot of trouble.


Is there a problem?

One must also make sure there really is a problem. Sometimes people think there is a problem, but in the end the problem is caused by oneselves. The colleagues in that case do not make difficulties, but you yourself are the problem. For may people recognizing this is very difficult. Nobody likes finger-pointing to oneself. Hoever, sometimes one just has to recognise that it is not the colleague that is making trouble.


Do you have to deal with the problem?

The answer to this questions is simple. Sometimes you have to deal with the problem, sometimes you do not have to deal with it. You should deal with the problem in case it is affecting your work or the work from your department. In case the problem is not affecting your work or even helping you forward (because the difficult employee is not carrying out tasks, which you are looking for) there is no need to act. In that case it is even better to “wait and see”.  


Can we make use of the difficulties?

You can turn a negative point into a positive point. Sometimes a difficulty might better be described as a difference. Sometimes it might be difficult to deal with these differences, but one can also make use of it. Imagine a colleague who is a slow starter during the day. In the morning he / she can not work, no progression is booked. In the afternoon and late evening however, this person books good progression. Maybe you should think about more flexible working hours for this person. The fact that this persons better performs in the evening can be used by creating various shifts. This employee can e.g. work in the night shift. A negative point has been turned into a positive point.  


Be direct, open en tactfull

It is importan to be honest to your colleague. Be direct and tell in all honesty what the difficulties are you are facing. Try to understand the problems and do have an open discussion. Once you choose to confront a difficult coworker, make sure you give well-rehearsed, constructive criticism and that you deliver it in a calm, polite, tactful, diplomatic and non-threatening manner. Keep your voice low and select your words carefully. State your points of contention clearly, directly and unambiguously and give concrete examples to support them. Do not harshly criticize or humiliate a coworker or make accusatory remarks. Remember, the goal of the confrontation is to find solutions and alleviate the negative atmosphere not feed them.


Have a Face-to-Face discussion

It is always of utmost importance to listen to arguments and to respond at the correct moment. Do not only ventilate frustrations. Stay calm, give your arguments and listen. Listen to the view of your colleague and see whether he / she has a point. Have an open discussion which leave room for discussion.


Listen and respond

It is always of utmost importance to listen to arguments and to respond at the correct moment. Do not only ventilate frustrations. Stay calm, give your arguments and listen. Listen to the view of your colleague and see whether he / she has a point. Have an open discussion which leave room for discussion.


Let the working relation be the key-element in the meeting

You should understand that you after the discussion again have to work with your colleague. Therefore you should make sure all discussions are closed properly. Make sure the situation does not get worse, due to the meeting. Stay focusses on the outcome and be realistic. Losing your temper, saying hurtful things, making accusatory remarks at coworkers or management will not solve matters and may only come back to haunt you. Avoid burning bridges. You never know who you will have to work with at a later date on a different project or even in a different company. Keep your relationships healthy and avoid saying or doing anything you may regret.



It is a good idea with chronically difficult coworkers to document their negative words and actions. This will help you gain perspective and will give you specific and concrete examples to refer to when you confront them or if matters escalate and management gets involved.


Do you need help?

If despite all your good intentions, flexibility and tactful discussions with the difficult coworkers about their troublesome behaviour, the negative behaviour persists, it may be time to talk to you boss. This is especially necessary if your own performance is being affected and there is no positive outcome in sight. Again, the goal is to seek a resolution so be clear about the problem and the desired solution as you approach your boss.


Do you have to leave yourself?

It may be that management itself is inadvertently rewarding or positively reinforcing negative behaviours. It may also be that they are unwilling or incapable of stopping it or that the do not adequately comprehend or accept the seriousness of the situation. In these cases you may be better off seeking greener pastures elsewhere, whether it be in a different role or division within the company where you do not have to deal with the difficult coworker, or in a different company altogether. Make sure you leave on a positive and professional note and give adequate notice.

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