Office of Continuing Education

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September 12th, 2018

Group of students in a classroom discussing an assignment.

Getting along with coworkers–even difficult ones–can be accomplished with patience and effort.

Just about every workplace has at least one or two people who are difficult to get along with, and if you don’t have hiring and firing power, you’ll have to learn how to work effectively with them. Dealing with difficult coworkers is probably one of the most difficult skills to master, but it can be done with some patience and practice.

Walk a Mile

The first thing to do when you realize you dislike or have conflict with a coworker is to try to see the world through their eyes–to walk a mile in their shoes, as they saying goes. Try to learn more about them and what makes them tick–not for any nefarious purpose, but to see what’s behind their behavior. Maybe that extremely negative person has lost someone near and dear to them or struggles with divorce and custody issues, or suffers from chronic pain.

It may not make you like the person any better, but it may increase your patience with them and make it easier for you to treat them well despite their own behavior. Which brings you to the next main principle of dealing with difficult people.

Be the Bigger Person

No matter how someone else treats you, you need to treat them with respect and be professional in your dealings with them. It’s not about whether they “get away” with treating you badly, it’s about making sure you aren’t going to deal with any fallout from your treatment of them. You can even “stand up” to them and confront them about their behavior if you can do it politely and professionally. Being a doormat and “taking it” isn’t necessary or even advisable in many cases.

Documenting any incidents in which they treat you badly or unfairly isn’t a bad idea, because it will give you something concrete to share with your superiors if and when the timing is right. Sometimes it becomes evident to others that there’s a problem, or they cross a line that demands some action on your part to prevent harm to your career, and it helps to have documentation that it’s more than a one-time problem.

You can still handle the situation positively and with respect to everyone involved, making it clear that you’re not trying to get anyone in trouble but just want the situation to be rectified.

Two woman discussing work in front of a desktop computer.

Sometimes it takes a while to figure out how to connect with a difficult coworker.

Be Willing to Move Forward

If you’re stuck in the last thing a difficult person did that made you upset or bothered you in some way, you won’t be as effective in your work. Being able to let things go and give people more chances to do better in the future is the best course of action and will reflect well on you in the workplace.

Sometimes it isn’t a matter of the other person being wrong and you being right, it’s just a case of different personalities or work methods. Being able to put aside your own preferences at least some of the time and compromise with others are good skills to have and will help the team function better.

If you can calmly explain your difficulty with the coworker to your supervisor or team leader without saying derogatory things against the coworker, you may be able to get some advice on what to do moving forward and how you can better deal with the situation.

CCSU offers continuing education courses in soft skills, including communicating with coworkers and interacting positively.  View open courses to see what we have to offer that may help you in your career.