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A Guide to How to Deal With Difficult Co-Workers

A Guide to How to Deal With Difficult Co-Workers

It is a common occurrence to come across difficult people at your workplace. As a coach one of the first questions we ponder when bringing in new student athletes is how they will fit in our team culture, with their teammates, and how will they handle new situations. This should also be done when hiring new employees, how will this person work with the current group? Will they be able to fit in and make a positive contribution to the team? No one wants a disagreeable teammate or co-worker who makes everyone’s daily life a constant battle to appease them. However, despite all of the vetting that takes place, often times we are still left to deal with difficult people at our workplace.

The question is how do you deal with these difficult people, when do you confront them, and how do you confront them? Through my experience as a head coach I have come up with a few simple rules to help you decide when and how you need to confront someone.

Two simple rules on when to confront someone:

  1. If you feel the difficult person’s actions will be an obstacle in your own success. This is probably the first rule to follow. If a co-worker’s action are making you or your team fail to meet expectations, or putting you into a position where you will not be successful, it is not only your job, but you have a right to confront that person.
  1. They have surpassed the limits on what you will tolerate. What will you tolerate from difficult teammates or coworkers? Set a limit in your mind as to what you will tolerate and make sure you stick to it. You do not deserve to be bullied in the workplace, or to have your work suffer due to another person’s actions.

How to confront someone:

  1. Approach the person with whom you are having the problem for a private discussion. This is not an easy task, but you will need to talk to the difficult coworker discretely about how their actions are effecting your work. Not all conversations will be easy ones. There is not a need to be confrontational, but make your expectations on how you would like to be treated clear. Keep in mind they may be unaware of how their words or actions have impacted your work, and that this may be the first time they are hearing this. The goal of your discussion should be to attempt to reach agreement about positive and supportive actions for each of you.
  1. Make sure to follow up on your discussion. Have you noticed a change in the person’s behavior toward you? Hopefully it has gotten better, but maybe it has gotten worse. Determine whether a second difficult conversation is needed or if it will have a lasting impact. Another decision may be to decide whether or not to have this discussion again by yourself, or include a third party, perhaps your direct superior. However, before including your boss, first determine whether you have experienced a pattern of support from him or her.

Difficult co-workers or teammates are a common problem in any environment where people must work together. You are definitely not alone in experiencing this problem. However, if you feel your work is suffering and the difficult coworker has surpassed your limits on what you will tolerate, you have a right to be heard. Be clear in your expectations on how you deserve to be treated. Stay tuned for some follow up tips should your conversations not be going as planned.

 ~Sean Hogan has coached hockey at the international and collegiate levels for over ten years. He has spoken at numerous events about culture building, goal setting and healthy lifestyles. He holds a Master’s of Science Degree in Recreation and Sports Science with an emphasis in Coaching Education from OHIO University.