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How to Handle Tricky Colleagues

October 20, 2020

As a professional, it is very likely that at some point in your career you have had to—or will have to—work with a difficult colleague. For the sake of your job, you need to be able to handle maintaining a workable relationship in spite of any tension between yourself and your coworker. Read on for some helpful tips on handling tricky teammates. 

Tips for Handling Coworker Conflict

When you find yourself clashing with another member of your team, it can be difficult to approach the situation with a calm and clear head. Follow these steps to successfully work your way through the conflict:

  1. Check Yourself – The first step is to take the time to do a self-evaluation of your role in the situation. If you are worked up or angry, calm yourself down. Consider the things that you know that push your buttons and whether or not they might play a role in what is happening. What might you have done to contribute to the difficult situation at hand?
  2. Consider Your Colleague’s Situation – Take some time to consider and evaluate exactly what seems to be happening between yourself and your colleague. Try to see things from their perspective and understand their intentions. Think about what exactly it is that makes working with them or interacting with them difficult.
  3. Get Some Perspective – Once you have spent some time mulling over how both your colleague and yourself might be contributing to the difficult situation, reach out to a trusted friend or colleague to get some perspective. If they are already familiar with the situation and/or your troublesome teammate, they might already have some thoughts about what is happening. If they are outside of your organization and are unfamiliar with what has been going on and the people involved, strive to be as accurate and unbiased in describing the situation in order to paint as clear a picture as possible.
  4. Connect With the Tricky Colleague – This is one of the hardest steps: confronting the issues head on. If possible, talk with your teammate directly. Calmly explain where you are coming from and describe your perception of the situation. Allow them the space to do the same. A couple more helpful tips in this area include:
    • Ask a neutral moderator to observe or guide the conversation
    • Strive to build a better rapport with the tricky colleague outside of the direct confrontation: learn more about them personally, find something humorous to share, etc.
    • Try your best to always remain respectful during any interactions that you have

If this process does not work for you, or if the situation escalates, there are some alternative steps to consider. If the troublesome coworker’s behavior is irritating but not serious, consider simply ignoring it and saving your fight for issues that matter more. If you take this tack, you can still strive to build a good rapport with your colleague and hope that the issue resolves in the future. Alternatively, if the situation is more serious than you feel comfortable handling alone, consider whether it is time to escalate to a higher authority within your organization.