9 types of difficult coworkers and how to deal with them
Difficult coworkers are individuals that are difficult to work with because of their character traits and behavior. Such workers act in certain ways that make cooperating with them difficult for their colleagues.
Understanding how to deal with difficult coworkers is important because their behavior at work can lead to negative consequences for you and your company.
Working with difficult personalities is associated with higher stress levels, lowered productivity, and communication problems.
Here we will take a closer look at some of the common types of difficult coworkers, and you will find tips and tricks on how to deal with them.
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Types of difficult coworkers and how to deal with them
A coworker can be difficult in more than one way. Here are some common behaviors and traits to look out for.
- Lording (exercising authority)
- Busybody (excessive interest in the affairs of others)
- Unprofessional behavior
What follows are examples of difficult coworker archetypes and simple tips on how to deal and/or cope with them.
1. Rude coworker
There is a line between being honest and direct, and being downright rude. Some people are blunt and lack manners. Being rude at work, be it with coworkers or customers, is not conducive to great work and outstanding results.
Dealing with a rude coworker
- Ask them to talk in private so as not to cause a scene.
- Don’t attack them because they will get defensive.
- Give them honest and direct feedback but do it gently.
- Ask them to be a little nicer with everyone else.
You can check our complete guide on how to deal with rude coworkers.
2. Passive-aggressive coworker
Passive aggression at work is a common covert tactic to express dissatisfaction. Some people adopt this behavior and turn it into a character trait. This makes working with them incredibly hard and unpleasant for everyone else.
Dealing with a passive-aggressive coworker
- Tell them it’s obvious to everyone they are being passive-aggressive.
- Ask them what the reason for their dissatisfaction is.
- Hear out their grievances, don’t interrupt them while they speak.
- Think about how you can help to solve their problem.
- Ask them to stop being so passive-aggressive with their colleagues.
Check our complete guide on how to deal with passive-aggressive coworkers.
3. Jealous coworker
Jealousy in the workplace can trigger all sorts of negative behaviors that can turn into communication and productivity blockers. A coworker might be jealous of the professional competence or higher salary of another. This might turn them hostile and noncooperative towards others.
Dealing with a jealous coworker
- Don’t tell them about your salary and the benefits that you receive.
- Don’t brag in front of them about your success and achievements.
- Be careful what information you share with them.
- Don’t trust them with a favor and work-related tasks.
- Don’t give them access to your computer and accounts.
Check our complete guide on how to recognize jealous coworkers and deal with them.
4. Incompetent coworker
Some workers lack the critical skills necessary to do their job properly. Other workers have the necessary skills and knowledge but slack off at work. No matter the reason, not performing optimally at work is considered incompetence.
Dealing with an incompetent coworker
- Identify what critical skills and knowledge they lack.
- Ask them to take steps to improve professionally.
- Provide them with resources they can use so they can improve.
- Track their progress while they take action to become better.
You can check our complete guide on dealing with incompetent coworkers.
5. Lazy coworker
As explained above, laziness at work is essentially a form of incompetence. The person has the necessary knowledge and skills but is unwilling to work optimally due to laziness.
Dealing with a lazy coworker
- Tell them it is obvious that they are slacking.
- Ask them to do their job properly.
- Track their performance after the feedback.
- Expose them to HR if they continue to slack off.
Check our complete guide on how to deal with lazy coworkers.
6. Annoying coworker
A worker who is bothering other workers by being insensitive and not aware of their own inadequacies can be considered annoying. The way they interact with other workers is bothersome. They might exhibit habits and behaviors that annoy their coworkers.
Dealing with an annoying coworker
- Explain to them carefully that they are bothering their coworkers.
- Ask them to take steps to minimize their annoying behavior.
- If necessary, set personal boundaries with them.
Visit our complete guide on how to deal with annoying coworkers.
7. Narcissist coworker
Narcissism in the workplace is not necessarily a bad thing. But it can definitely reach toxic levels and turn into a serious problem. People who are narcissistic at work tend to be self-centered and act in a way that serves only their own interests. This can be a problem because it is hard to collaborate with such individuals.
Dealing with a narcissistic coworker
- Give them detailed feedback about their self-centered behavior.
- Ask them to take steps to become more cooperative.
- Be mindful of their actions as they can retaliate in some way.
Check our complete guide on how to spot a narcissist at work and deal with them.
8. Micromanaging coworker
Bossiness at work is a common trait of difficult coworkers. When taken to the extreme, the person becomes a micromanager of others. This could be due to a lack of trust in their colleagues or a desire to practice their lording power.
Dealing with a micromanaging coworker
- Do your best to find out how their role at work is related to yours.
- Decide whether to resist them or not based on their role and responsibilities.
- Limit your communication with them, don’t let them reach you outside of work.
- Ask them to stop micromanaging you if they are bothering you too much.
Check out our complete guide on dealing with a micromanager at work.
9. Toxic coworker
It is safe to say that all of the behaviors above fall under the toxic coworker category. But keep in mind that a coworker can be toxic in more than one way. That is why it is important to observe your toxic coworker carefully in order to figure out what their problem is.
Dealing with a toxic coworker
- Pay attention to the person when you are at work whenever you can.
- Try to figure out exactly what is the reason for their toxic behavior.
- Based on your observations, decide if you should give them feedback or not.
- Take actions to protect yourself in case they are aggressive and volatile.
- Seek a resolution through proper company channels (HR and higher management).
Check out our complete guide on how to identify and deal with toxic coworkers.
How to work with difficult coworkers
It is far from optimal to work with difficult people as collaboration and proper communication are essential for the success of any company. Still, there are steps that you can take in order to cope with difficult coworkers.
1. Practicе emotional distance
Don’t take anything they say or do personally. Create a mental screen between you and them. No matter how difficult and unpleasant their demeanor is, don’t let them get to you, and don’t stoop to their level.
2. Ensure your psychological safety
Remember that you can always leave. No job is worth tolerating the unreasonable behavior of insensitive people. We talk about this in-depth in our guide on how to leave a toxic workplace.
3. Raise your voice
You are not voiceless. As an employee of your company, you have rights, and it is in your company’s interest to keep you happy and productive. So raise your voice and call out coworkers who are being difficult and noncooperative.
4. Establish clear boundaries
Give the person who is being difficult detailed feedback and tell them about your personal boundaries in case they are being toxic in any way. This will show them that you are a person who will not tolerate disrespect and unprofessional behavior at work.
5. Limit your communication with them
You can limit the communication with your difficult coworker(s) to what is essential for your work. As far as everything else is concerned, you can avoid them. For example, you can block them on social media and not pick up the phone when they call outside of work hours.
Form strategic workplace friendships
It’s very likely that your colleagues have also noticed the behavior of your difficult coworker(s). You can team up and resist the problematic person to show them that they won’t get away with this kind of behavior at work.
6. Unwind properly after work
Working with people is already hard enough, even when you have one or more difficult coworkers. For example, this study concludes that employees who have difficult coworkers experience higher levels of perceived stress in their work which may affect their decision to leave their job.
So make sure that when you leave work, you are not falling into the trap of rumination. Take steps to relax after work and forget your worries. Check out our complete guide on how to unwind after work.
How to communicate with difficult coworkers
Communicating with difficult coworkers can be hard and stressful. However, there are certain ways you can approach this in order to minimize all the negativity. Here are some useful tips
1. Don’t be tempted to ignore them entirely
According to popular advice, it is best to “just ignore” people who are being difficult and toxic at work. However, this will only bring you more headaches down the line. By ignoring a coworker, you are turning into somebody who is being irresponsible and unprofessional.
2. Stick to work-related communication only
Instead of ignoring the person, simply stick to the communication that is essential for your work. You can say things like “Let’s not get distracted” in case you notice the conversation is going off course.
3. Remind them about their responsibilities
In case the person is blocking work or downright ignoring you, make sure to remind them of their responsibilities. By refusing to communicate, they are not doing their job.
4. Don’t stoop to their level
Remember to control your emotions. Don’t give in to cheap provocations. No matter the person's behavior, approach them with dignity and self-respect.
5. Stick to online communication
If possible, stick to email and direct messaging. This way, there is a clear log of your communication that can be used later on as evidence in case the situation escalates to a workplace conflict.
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