Dealing with Difficult Colleagues

Lately several clients have shared with me their challenges with coworkers they perceive as difficult.  These might be people who border on hostile, or might be people who don’t try to get along, or maybe they are people who are just different from my clients–people who are from a different generation or background or who have a different work style or work ethic.

No two human beings are exactly alike, so there are no two interactions that are exactly alike.  Therefore, it is really challenging (read: impossible) to find proven universal solutions on how to deal with a difficult colleague.  But there are definitely a couple of things to keep in mind when dealing with a colleague that you find difficult.  First and foremost, there are expectations of appropriate conduct in the workplace.  Take the focus off of the personalities at play and keep the focus on actions.  Despite the challenges, colleagues must remain civil, and if you or your colleague are having trouble demonstrating acceptable workplace behavior it is time to seek assistance from the appropriate person in your organization, be that Human Resources or your manager.

Another area of focus I recommend is yourself.  While you are unlikely to change the things about your colleague that you find difficult, you can control the way you react to them.  Observe what it is that bothers you and pause before you react.  Keep it professional.  Try to see the other person’s viewpoint and understand why they may feel the way they feel.

Sure, a difficult colleague can be one of the biggest challenges you can face professionally but by keeping your own emotional reaction in check, practicing empathy toward your colleagues and upholding standards of professional conduct you can improve the situation even if the other party does not show any interest in doing so.  And by doing so you are using a great opportunity to stretch and improve your interpersonal skills.