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Dealing with a difficult colleague

There’s a lot of responsibility resting on modern professional’s shoulders. Not only do you have to be a successful, skilled and hardworking individual, you also have to act the part, regardless of how many curveballs get thrown your way.

Unfortunately, we all have to deal with difficult people at work at one point or another. Learning how to deal with a co-worker who tests your patience will provide valuable lessons that take your professional and personal life to the next level. You will acquire the skills to cope with challenging situations and demanding people, which will, over time, allow you to simply brush it off and rise above.

There’s a reason the most successful people in the world schedule no time for drama in their day. They know how valuable their time is and that petty conflict only slows them down. These people don’t waste a moment trying to reason with someone who is fixated on office politics. It’s not arrogant or selfish to avoid the politics; it’s called dealing. Ultimately, you want to deal with the crazymakers quickly and efficiently, focus and be successful, otherwise your day lacks purpose and your work suffers.

Below we discuss the ways in which you can learn to cope with difficult colleagues swiftly, brush it off and carry on with a purpose.

Self-confidence and courage

Your ability to cope with difficult co-workers largely depend on the strength of your self-confidence, courage and self-esteem. If someone is generally obnoxious, has an inflated sense of self or behaves in a way that affects more than one person in the office, they’re easier to deal with. You can call them out on it as many times as it takes or simply choose to disregard their behaviour and continue to focus on what you need to do.

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However, when someone is aggressive in their demeanour, undermining you as a professional or constantly arguing with you to prove a point or have the last say it becomes slightly more challenging. According to psychological studies, these personalities feel the constant need to compete for the spotlight, power and recognition. Their aim is to put you on the spot and make you feel uncomfortable or inadequate.

These issues with co-workers should be dealt with swiftly otherwise the tension starts simmering below your calm exterior and eventually erupts into a full-blown office fight. Your best option is to talk to the person in a private meeting, as they love making a scene in front of an audience. Discuss your differences and try to reach a compromise on how to handle conflict going forward. If this doesn’t solve the issue, the next step would be to involve management.

Keep calm and carry on

We all have hot-buttons that, when pushed, cause us to lose our cool and react in a way that we may later regret. When dealing with an unreasonable or difficult person, maintaining your composure will allow you to handle the situation with better judgment.

When conflict arises or someone is making life at work unbearable for you, breathe and count to ten before reacting or responding. Sometimes it’s best to take a break, step back and schedule a private meeting to talk it out once you both calmed down. Your greatest leverage is your own behaviour when someone else acts in an inappropriate or unreasonable manner.

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Keeping your composure also allows you to approach the person with more respect, which may lead them to calm down and be more open to what you’re saying. If you take a softer approach towards the person and a stronger one towards the problem you show yourself as a strong problem-solver.

Be an observer

When you’re having trouble with crazymakers, it might be a good idea to assess the situation from an observer’s point of view. Here it’s absolutely vital to keep your cool, as when you’re worked up and angry you’re less likely to see things objectively.

Look at how an outsider would view your reaction and the difficult person’s behaviour. Are they really out of line or are you overly sensitive and easily offended. You may find that you’re overreacting to something that is actually quite innocent. Constantly being defensive will only fuel the fire and make them hit back harder and give them more ammunition against you.

Learn to like

Sometimes we find someone difficult and hard to get along with when we don’t like that person. This complicates matters even more.

Think about why you don’t like that person and why everything they do rubs you up the wrong way. A popular psychological theory indicates that deep in your psyche you may find traces of the unlikeable trait in yourself. The reason you don’t like that person is that they remind you of a part of yourself.

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Learning to like someone you can’t stand, is indirectly learning to like and accept yourself. This is all part of the complex human condition and being compassionate with yourself and the person you don’t get along with is key when dealing with these types of situations. Approaching someone you consider unlikeable and difficult with compassion, turns the whole situation on its head instead of letting it become progressively worse until your working environment is completely unbearable.

It’s important to note that while you might encounter truly difficult and just plain unpleasant people at work, your own behaviour determines how well you deal with the person and resolve the situation. Before taking any action, first determine if their behaviour is at fault or if you are reacting in a way that aggravates the situation.

Author: Christine Kleyn

Christine is the content creator for Pressure Coolers and her work has been featured on many health and wellbeing websites. You can follow her on Twitter @christinekleyn and Google+.


  1. Heather Greig on 21 January, 2015 at 10:24 am

    Good article.

    Always remember that you can’t choose your work colleagues – but you can choose to work with them!

  2. Christine Kleyn on 20 February, 2015 at 12:40 pm

    Hi Heather, I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I love your statement: “Always remember that you can’t choose your work colleagues – but you can choose to work with them!”

    Whether we choose to deal with it in a professional manner or reciprocate the questionable behaviour, our reaction determines the ultimate outcome. It’s all up to us!

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