How to manage difficult colleagues at work

Thursday April 08 2021

You are not at work to make friends. SHUTTERSTOCK

By Nation. Africa

No matter where you are employed, you might find yourself having to deal with a few difficult co-workers. They can be overly hostile, overzealous gossipers, or impossibly stubborn and unwilling to consider new ideas, and this is enough to make you want to quit. But in today’s economy, quitting is simply not an option. Your best bet is to find a way of getting along with difficult people, and also to learn a few lessons from them.

Realise that no matter how difficult someone seems, you can work harmoniously with him. With a little self-reflection, understanding and patience, you can get along with anyone.

Understand the dynamics of work relationships

Any workplace – from a highly formal and technical environment to a relaxed and close-knit company – ultimately becomes an extended family. That doesn’t mean you have to invite your co-workers over for holiday dinners. It simply means that people tend to project their family ties and circumstances to those they work with. In other words, if someone has a problem with their mother or father, they are likely to have a problem with their male or female boss. If they’re in a family where siblings are jealous of each other, or bullied by each other, they might exhibit the same behavior to their co-workers. This phenomenon is called transference.

The best way to overcome this is to focus on your personal life and make it as good as it can be. Mend your personal relationships, talk out problems with parents or siblings, and get your personal life in order. By doing this, you’ll be strong enough to handle the work relationships and will start transferring your positive personal relationship aspects rather than negative ones.

Keep your work relationships in perspective.


Whatever you do, don’t try to make friends in the workplace. You are there to work, not to make friends. If you happen to work with someone you like and a friendship develops, that’s fine. But don’t force it or think you have to be friends with all your co-workers. If you can keep this concept in mind, you’ll be able to look at the relationship from a purely professional perspective and keep emotions out of it. The more you can leave your emotions out of the workplace, the more peace of mind you will have there.

Commit to learning from every relationship

Every difficult person you encounter in the workplace is actually helping you learn something you can use in future. Suppose you have a boss who undermines or who berates you. You certainly don’t like being treated like that, so you make a mental note that when you’re in a leadership position, you’ll never act like that. This is called learning by opposite. When someone is displaying a behavior you don’t like, you become more aware of what you want to do and who you want to become as you move up the career ladder.

Take responsibility

If you’re having a problem with a difficult co-worker, stop and look at your role in the relationship. Are you playing the “two wrongs can make a right” game, where you do something that you know will set the person off just because he or she annoyed you recently? Remember that every relationship is a two-way street. Remove yourself emotionally from the situation and concentrate on your strengths so you can make the relationship less difficult. If the other person doesn’t change or still blatantly doesn’t like you, that’s OK. Stop caring what others think. In the end, the only person you can change is yourself.

Accept the relationship

Quit looking for the perfect workplace. It simply doesn’t exist. Accept that people think differently, act differently and respond to situations differently than you do. Then, do what you can to look at the other side of the fence. Get an understanding of the other person’s point of view or where they’re coming from. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with them or like them. You just have to accept that they have a different way of handling stress or approaching situations. That way, you’ll be more patient, understanding and forgiving of others, and they won’t seem as difficult anymore.

Ditch the difficulties

Remember, none of your co-workers was hired to please you. As such, a few difficult ones are bound to be in the mix, so don’t quit your job because of your difficult co-workers or even a difficult boss. Chances are, you’ll find the same kinds of characters in your new workplace anyway. Instead, ease the difficult relationship by focusing on your own mind-set.

When you focus only on yourself and not on the difficult co-worker, you will become happier and more productive in all aspects of life.

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