How To Deal With Difficult Coworkers

Illustrated by Sydney Haas.
They say friends are the family we choose for ourselves, but what about your colleagues — those people you see 40-plus hours each week? You often know way too much about them: what they had for lunch, how often they take a bathroom break, and their strong opinions on any number of topics. When you work side-by-side five days a week, you can't avoid them.

Your job can certainly be a fantastic place to make new friends and broaden your networks, but you’re a very lucky individual if your office is filled with only friendly faces. And, while we generally have autonomy over who we choose to hang out with, that's not usually the case with coworkers. That guy who's giving you grief? He's probably not going anywhere.

There are however, a few things you can do to maintain your sanity — and none involve revenge or resignation. 

Ahead, we’ve collected the most challenging workplace personalities — from faux confidants to conflict-driven pessimists — and how to deal with them. This is a must-read for anyone who’s a slave to the 9-to-5.
1 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Haas.
There’s a very fine line between subtle envy and outright obsession. Sure, returning from an exotic holiday complete with a fabulous new outfit could rustle a few feathers, but a coworker who appears to be consistently evaluating your life is cause for concern.

I once worked with a girl who would break out in a rash when other team members received recognition for their achievements. Naturally, her bitter temperament flowed into other areas of work and it created an incredibly tense environment.

Dealing with jealousy can be a fragile affair and given the root cause is not generally verbalized, it’s difficult to address. Nobody is ready to admit that they’re simmering with envy, but depending on how reasonable they are, a casual discussion could be beneficial.

Another consideration is to reflect on why they may feel this way: Is your presence somehow making them feel inferior, whether it be flaunting your workplace wins or enviable personal life? Changing your own habits can be useful in these instances.

It’s also a good idea to record specific events if the jealous coworker's attitude begins to negatively affect your ability to do your job. If the behavior mutates into sabotage territory, you’ll need some solid points to relay to HR.
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2 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Haas.
A recent survey revealed that 56% of Americans have dated a coworker at some point in their career — and some of these even end in marriage. Of course, romantic pursuits in the workplace don’t always result in such happy endings. Rather, some lead to awkwardness, embarrassment, and in some extreme cases, employment termination.

Whether it’s a Christmas party confession (encouraged by the open bar), one-too-many lingering desk visits, suggestive body language, or blatantly asking you out, you’ll need to react to with caution.

If you’re genuinely not interested, try and distance yourself (where possible). That means brushing off non work-related emails and conversations and trying to keep your interactions strictly professional. If their persistence is impacting your ability to do your job and is making you uncomfortable, it's important to be direct when they’ve crossed the line.

Of course it’s a difficult subject to broach, so a casual email can help to get the point across — plus you’ll have a record of it if it happens again.

For interactions that become outright creepy — moving into sexual harassment territory — it's essential to see support from HR.
3 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Haas.
Picture this: You’ve spent a lot of energy putting together a compelling presentation and the time has come to showcase your admirable efforts. What happens when someone else chimes in and takes all of the credit? Of course, interrupting them mid-lie to declare your unsung value could prove embarrassing, particularly if you’re in a large group meeting. But, unethical conquests like these just cannot fly.

The shameless credit thief is perhaps one of the most infuriating bad coworkers. They’re also most likely to flee the scene as soon as an issue arises. How to react depends largely on the nature of the theft. Consider whether it was merely an oversight (e.g. leaving your name off a list of participants), or something more sinister and repetitive.

If it is something minor, bring it to their attention and let them know that you expect a resolution and better practice going forward. If you’re faced with something bigger, chances are the person isn’t keen on moral decency; therefore a confidential discussion with your manager is advisable. When speaking to your boss, you will need specific details to show there’s really an issue going on. Be sure to make a list of all credit-stealing occurrences and provide details, including the date, location, who else was present, and the sequence of events. It’s also useful to save any email evidence you have on hand that will support your claims.
4 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Haas.
Machiavelli was famously quoted saying "It’s better to be feared than loved," but if you’re prone to eruption, people are likely to run for the hills.

The Volcano is often a senior colleague who believes they’re so invaluable to the company that they can just blow up anywhere. Basic manners and composure is often reserved for senior management, rather than subordinates. There’s a very blatant agenda on show and you certainly don’t want to be around when things don’t fall in their favor.

If you start to sense any irritation, try to keep your distance — perhaps head out for a coffee break while the storm passes. If you’re working directly with them when a blow-up occurs, try to ignore the tantrum and get on with the task at hand — a missed deadline or substandard job could tip them over the edge. Likewise, it’s also a good idea to avoid asking questions when they’re in the midst of an episode.

If you’re the victim of emotional rage, try not to take it to heart or add fuel to the fire by reacting. Elegance is an attitude, and you’re better than this.
5 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Haas.
Regina George is in the house, and you’ve been rendered invisible. Unfortunately, mean girls are more fact than fiction in some workplaces and they can be just as cruel as any teenager.

A recent survey stated that 43% of U.S. workplaces were populated by cliques, which can be incredibly intimidating for new team members or those on the sidelines. As with the Green-Eyed Monster, acts of exclusion can arise from insecurity. Do they see you as a threat and therefore, try to pretend you don’t exist? Or, if you haven’t previously attempted to get to know them, could it be time to think of some conversation starters? Some coworkers may be blissfully unaware that they’re excluding you, so finding some common ground and making more of an effort could help to turn things around.

If they’re deliberately withholding correct information and ignoring you full stop, take them aside and express your concern in a non-confrontational manner. If there’s no improvement, report the situation to your managers or HR.
6 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Haas.
To the pessimist, every cloud has a black lining and downer is the default mood.

A fabulous new business win? Even worse work-life balance ahead. Meeting all of your team targets? It could have been done better. Sometimes there’s just no pleasing the office pessimist and their vibe can be contagious, which is a dangerous thing for any workplace.

You can try to combat the negativity with persistent encouragement and optimism, and if that doesn’t work, provide some feedback. Gently advise that their not-so-sunny disposition is affecting the team spirit.

If they seem genuinely troubled, ask if everything’s okay, or if there’s anything that’s influencing their mood — there could be something going on in their personal life they’re reluctant to share at work. Regardless of the reason, this is one instance where addressing the negative attitude with an open discussion could help matters.
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7 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Haas.
The disingenuous manager can be an unforeseen land mine —particularly if they’re of the people-pleasing variety. Traits include avoiding confrontation (even when it’s essential), hindering professional growth, and passing blame where you have no visibility – e.g. throwing you under the bus with the intent of making themselves look better.

The worst thing? It takes time to catch on to this devious management style. They’re out for Number One and creating a trustworthy, motivating environment is secondary to maintaining their personal successes. As with many workplace issues, it’s always wise to record specific incidents in case the situation escalates (or doesn’t improve).

There's nothing more frustrating than getting blamed for something that is the boss's fault. While it can be scary to discuss the issue with your manager, when your reputation is on the line, it's necessary. First discuss the problem, and then take steps to make sure it doesn't happen again by documenting who's accountable for each step of the project.
8 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Haas.
The artificial coworker tailors their demeanor to their audience: A dry joke from the boss will result in fits of fake laughter, while the same line from a junior coworker will make their eyes roll. This is clearly someone with an agenda who uses saccharine compliments and excessive praise to try and get on the good side of their superiors. The only problem is that it’s completely transparent to the rest of the office. And, while respecting senior colleagues is essential, no one needs to witness an ego-stroking extravaganza.

This is an instance where the best line of defense is ignoring the artificial coworker, and focusing on your own interactions with your boss. In both life and business, authenticity is key. There’s no point trying to be someone you’re not. Building real relationships with your senior colleagues and coworkers is ultimately more valuable than working about the kiss ass in the corner.
9 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Haas.
Have you ever made a massive mistake at work? That’s the sort of question a faux confidant would ask and use against you when you least expect it. Sometimes, these coworkers are easy to detect (as their quest for ammunition can be embarrassingly overt), but sometimes, they’re the colleagues you like to hang out with because they’re entertaining.

Be careful not to let your guard down and overshare at an after-work happy hour. If you have reason to believe they can’t be trusted, limit your interactions with them (including email chat — which can easily be forwarded), and focus on building meaningful relationships with other coworkers. There will undoubtedly be some lovely people in your organization who could become good friends and trusted allies.
10 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Haas.
Operating under a microscope is neither fun nor motivating. It can severely diminish morale, and ultimately reduce productivity.

So how can you deal with a micromanager? Communication is key: Clarify what they expect from you, ask for a sense of the bigger picture (e.g. what pressures they are under that could be encouraging this style), and if necessary, demonstrate empathy. Some managers might believe that they’re giving clear instructions and don’t understand that their actions may be perceived as condescending.

Try to be proactive and anticipate what they want before they have to ask. For example, if you have a report due on Friday, aim to deliver a thorough, self-checked version on Thursday. Initiative and efficiency in the workplace can go a long way, particularly when people are working under pressure.
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