Dealing with Difficult Co-workers

Unfortunately, similarly like our family, we cannot choose our co-workers. Within each organisation there is a collection of individuals who are not always going to get along. Conflict is an unavoidable part of life and needs to be managed and resolved constructively for the benefit of both the individuals involved and the organisation.

It is possible to employ various skills and knowledge when it comes to employee interactions and disputes that can assist greatly in future relations within the workplace. You are not always going to agree with the decisions and behaviours of those you work with, however it is vital to be able to communicate effectively, resolve disputes efficiently and promptly and support the development of a harmonious working environment.

Included in this article are some helpful tips for decreasing the likelihood and severity of conflict within the workplace.

  • Keep interactions respectful, even when feeling frustrated or hurt. Avoiding put downs, name calling, interruptions, etc helps prevent conflict escalation.


  • Maintain emotional control, even when feeling angry. Vent or redirect emotions to avoid yelling or other intimidating behaviour. This helps provide a safe environment for resolving differences.


  • Keep interactions on ‘hot topics’ within a structured process. Avoiding or minimizing spontaneous discussions on such issues helps prevent unintended ‘blowups’. Using a planned negotiation, mediation, or other formalised process helps focus and balance communication about especially delicate issues.


  • Show a willingness to understand. If others feel understood and acknowledged, they are more likely to collaborate when problem solving. This requires focusing on and emphasising with what is being communicated by others rather than just waiting for a turn to respond.


  • Communicate honestly and openly. Holding back on what the real concerns are will only delay or complicate the resolution of differences.


  • Be as objective as possible. Avoid speculation, rumours and assumptions. Rely on personal observations and experiences or what can be independently verified through a credible witness or available documentation.


  • Express concerns in a constructive manner. Each party describing which of his/her needs are not being met is typically better received by others than accusations or demands for change.


  • Focus on future solutions rather than past blame. Emphasising what needs to be changed rather than who is at fault takes less time and energy and increases the chances of successful change.


  • Look for solutions that meet everyone’s needs. Using an approach that tries to find common ground or shared interests is the most effective way for each person to get his/her own needs met. An approach that disregards a person’s needs is likely to cause resentment in that individual, which can lead to future resistance or retaliation.