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Your Healthy Mind

Frustrating co-worker? You can handle this in healthy ways.

Posted by Priya Sholanki, MSW, RSW on Dec 7, 2018 5:13:46 PM

A businesswoman looks up with a look of concern and disdain for a man standing by her desk.

Finding someone difficult to work with can happen in any work environment.

Sometimes the problem you have with your co-worker is immediate – you might find them abrasive, unpleasant, or verbally offensive. Or your problems with them may build over time, when patterns of missing deadlines or poor communication become clear.  

Whatever the difficulty is dealing with that co-worker, here are some problems and how to avoid them, to help you maintain your own well-being and ultimately find a smoother way of working together.

Don’t avoid communicating.

You may not want to have a conversation with your co-worker about what’s been bothering you, but it’s better to talk it out than let your feelings fester and possibly come out in other ways that may contribute to a hostile work environment.

Don’t overthink it.

If the problem has been going on for a while, you’ve likely been worried about future scenarios already. Prepare by simply being focused on the behaviour you need them to change.

Try to find a way to express the problem in a way that focuses on the behaviour, not the person. Use “I” statements, explain the impact of the behaviour, and make a request for what you would prefer.  For example, “When you talk loudly, it makes it difficult for me to concentrate on my work. I would ask that you keep your voice down, or please take calls in a room with a door.” Be prepared with examples but avoid listing every little thing that bothers you so the conversation is more constructive, and less like an attack.

Don’t forget a mediator.

Some people are difficult to work with – and others can be verbally abusive. If the difficult co-worker is contributing to a toxic atmosphere at work, they may react defensively when they feel cornered. It may be worthwhile to have someone from HR or a supportive party present to help keep the conversation focused and productive.

While you don’t want to enter the conversation visibly upset, it may happen, and it can help to have someone there to represent you.

Don’t overextend yourself.

This will likely be a tense conversation – be mindful of the timing. Talking to a difficult co-worker prior to an important meeting or when you need to focus on a precision task afterward isn’t a good idea.

If, after the meeting you need a few minutes to regain your composure, try and take it. Have a glass of water or step outside for a few minutes. Collect your thoughts.

Don’t forget they’re a person too.

They may have personal reasons for their behaviour that have nothing to do with you directly. That doesn’t make their behaviour okay, but keep in mind everyone may struggle in ways we cannot see.

After you’ve laid out what’s bothering you, and what behaviour you would like to see change, take time to listen to what they have to say. Avoid cutting them off mid-conversation – but remain firm on how you feel and what has to change. 

Don’t gossip about them.

It’s natural to want to talk with other co-workers about someone you are having trouble working with. If you’re seeking support to know if how you’re feeling is reasonable, make sure to discuss it with someone you trust by focusing on how *you* feel. Pointing fingers behind someone’s back can make things worse. 


Being able to work through a problem with a difficult co-worker is possible while looking after your own well-being. If you are able to resolve these problems, it will ultimately benefit everyone around you.

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Topics: Working adults