The Best Way to Deal With a Difficult Colleague

December 7, 2016

Stop fighting with your colleagues. This is a much better solution.

Let’s be real – we all have at least one difficult colleague in our lives. Whether it is a boss, a teammate or someone you just see occasionally, you dread ever having to work with them, as it always ends in misery.

This leaves you with two options:

  • Continue to dread working with that person while secretly hoping they get a job elsewhere.
  • Or, fix the problem and turn that bad relationship into a good one.

The second option sounds impossible, right? Not so. In reality, the secret to building a better relationship with a difficult colleague often comes down to having one honest conversation.

The main reason bad working relationships persist

In her LinkedIn Learning class Conflict Resolution Fundamentals, executive coach Lisa Gates said the biggest reason you perceive a colleague as difficult is that you have incomplete information. For example, maybe they are dealing with a constraint you aren’t aware of or they have an issue either with you or your department you aren’t aware of.

The best way to fix this? Ask. If you work with this person again and there’s tension, acknowledge that you might be missing something or are confused by their reasoning, Gates said.

From there, it’s time to actively listen and get to the root of the issue. While listening, instead of looking to blame the other person for having that view, address it.

“If your conflict partner is angry because they're misinformed, your job will be to inform them,” Gates said in her course. “If they're angry because they feel disrespected, your job is to respect them. If they're frustrated because they misunderstood something you said, your job is to clarify and correct the misunderstanding.”

From there, you can summarize both of your conflicting stories and find areas where you share common values and goals, Gates said. For example, maybe the person is upset with you about something you said months ago, but you both agree that getting the task at hand done efficiently is paramount to the company’s success.

This generally allows the two of you to work toward a resolution and form a better working relationship. But it all starts with you having the courage to acknowledge the tension in the relationship.

“Go to the source and seek clarity,” Gates said in her course. “Dealing with difficult people is really about understanding what else might be operating underneath.”

Bottom line, don’t spend months of your life enduring a bad working relationship. Find out the real reason the issue exists by asking the person, correcting their grievance and then finding the common ground you share with them.

Want to become a better professional? Click here to watch Lisa Gates’ full LinkedIn Learning course, Conflict Resolution Fundamentals