Regardless of our pay grade or seniority level, we all have faced difficult coworkers at some point in our careers. It can be frustrating to work with someone who always rubs us the wrong way, such as the micromanager who can’t seem to let go of control, the negative Nancy who shoots down every idea, or the office bully who enjoys belittling others.
But rather than succumbing to our frustrations, we can choose to handle challenging workplace relationships with professionalism and grace.
Let’s face it – difficult coworkers aren’t going anywhere, so it’s up to us to learn how to manage these relationships in a way that keeps us sane and lets us work effectively.
Types of Difficult Coworkers
The Micromanaging Boss
Let’s talk about the first type of difficult coworker: the micromanaging boss. They don’t trust their team and watch their every move. They may expect you to be available 24/7, which can lead to burnout. Instead of feeling empowered to do your best work, you feel like you’re walking on eggshells.
The solution: You can start by having an open and honest conversation with your boss. This will help you understand their concerns and find ways to address them that work for both of you. Then, set clear expectations and communicate your approach to work. Try to approach it from a neutral standpoint, focusing on common goals you share with your boss.
If your boss is always messaging you outside of work hours, set clear boundaries. Remind them that you are not available outside your official schedule.
When completing your work, try to submit it before the deadline, leaving your boss ample time to review it. This way, they can suggest any necessary changes and provide feedback. If there’s going to be a delay, let your boss know as soon as possible. Proactive communication builds trust between you and your boss.
The Passive-Aggressive Colleague
The passive-aggressive colleague may act friendly towards you. However, they give off negative body language, talk behind your back, or “forget” to inform you of important details. Intentional or not, they manipulate others to get what they want, making you feel controlled and powerless.
The solution: Perhaps your coworker dreads direct confrontation or lacks the skills to manage conflict in a healthy way. Approach them with empathy. Refrain from making assumptions about their thoughts or feelings as it only makes them feel attacked, rather than understood.
Instead, take a considerate approach. Ask open-ended questions like, “How do you feel about this suggestion?” This establishes a foundation for understanding and finding common ground. By showing a willingness to work together towards a solution, you can ease the tension and create a more positive outcome.
Avoid reacting emotionally or becoming defensive. It’s important to remain calm and composed, even if the other person is being confrontational or aggressive.
The Negative Nancy
Dealing with a Negative Nancy in the workplace can be a real downer. Their attitude is contagious and brings down the mood of the workplace. They badmouth their coworkers and shoot down suggestions without providing constructive feedback. You might even have to endure their endless complaining, even though you never asked for it.
The solution: Let the Negative Nancy know how their negative attitude is affecting the team. Suggest seeking help for their issues. Avoid feeding into their negativity by refusing to join negative conversations or gossip. Instead, try to steer the conversation towards productive topics. When it comes to uncomfortable conversations, you can reject them politely by saying, “I appreciate that you trust me, but I am not sure if I need to know this much.”
You can also point them towards professional help. Many companies offer Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) designed to help employees with issues that affect their behaviour at work.
If your coworker continues to hold on to their negative attitude despite your efforts, escalate the situation to your manager or your company’s human resources department for further action.
The Office Bully
Unfortunately, bullying doesn’t always end when we leave school. We may meet a workplace bully who targets those who they believe won’t fight back or report them. It can be hard to feel safe at work when this difficult coworker intimidates, threatens and humiliates others.
The solution: Document their behaviour and report it to your supervisor or HR. You can also seek support from colleagues, and ensure that you maintain a strong support system outside of work.
Related article: How To Handle A Workplace Bully
This highly opinionated colleague feels the urge to one-up other people. The know-it-all is convinced that their methods are the best: they have the tendency to interrupt others and speak over them, dismissing their ideas and contributions.
The solution: Consider that the know-it-all colleague may have their own insecurities or misunderstandings that drive their behaviour. While it may take some effort, showing empathy towards them can help ease their need to dominate conversations.
When the know-it-all interrupts conversations, acknowledge their contribution and move on with your topic. Find the opportunity to give constructive feedback, focusing on the behaviour rather than the person. Be honest and tactful when pointing out how their behaviour is affecting you and other colleagues.
For instance, you can say, “It would be helpful if you waited until I finished my thought before sharing your own opinion. That way, we can have a more productive conversation.”
A Better Workplace For All
While we can’t guarantee that every challenging coworker can be resolved, following these steps can help us deal with workplace conflicts and obstacles.
Managing difficult coworkers isn’t just about controlling their behaviour. It’s also about managing our own actions and reactions. It is important to make sure that we set clear boundaries and communicate assertively and respectfully. However, we should recognise that we also have our own bad habits and strive to practice empathy and understanding towards our colleagues.
Remember, it’s okay to seek help when you need it. If you would like to contact us for counselling, you can do so here:
About Aventis Wellness
Aventis Wellness (AW) is an evidence-based Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and Counselling Provider. At Aventis Wellness, we recognize the importance of mental wellness and strive to offer affordable and accessible counselling and coaching services in full confidentiality. We bring together a community of industry practitioners, mental wellness experts, university partners, counsellors, therapists and learners.
We are here to support you and all companies towards a healthier and more engaged workforce by providing workplace well-being solutions. Many of our practitioners are highly experienced and come from diverse backgrounds. They offer wide-ranging areas of counselling catered to meet the needs of different companies or individuals.