How to Manage a Relationship with a Difficult Co-Worker

By: Tiernaur Anderson, Marketing and Outreach Intern

Work can be fun and can foster lasting relationships, but not all work relationships are easy. Sometimes you find that a co-worker has a rude attitude or a bad work ethic, and that can make things difficult for you. Here are some tips on how to Handle those scenarios, so you have a productive work relationship!

First and foremost, listen. Hang out with your coworker, and really give them a chance. Sometimes, a tense relationship is just a result of a misunderstanding or different expectation. Sometimes, getting to know a person whom you think you dislike can actually improve your relationship. You may even find that you get along with this person well – you just started off on the wrong foot. Your problem will be solved, and you will have a new friend!

However, other times, it is not this easy. If you’re still finding it challenging to work with this person, change tactics. When they make things challenging for you, try to rise above the difficulty. Instead of getting frustrated and having the same bad attitude as your co-worker, continue to act the way you wish your co-worker would act. Set an example for the way things should be done: calmly, professionally, and with good intentions. The best-case scenario is that your co-worker will notice your attitude and follow your example. If nothing else, you are at least being kind in a trying situation and demonstrating your own professionalism

If you are still struggling, it may be time to have a direct conversation with your co-worker. It doesn’t have to be confrontational or argumentative, sometimes a difficult but direct conversation can clear up any troubles. When you have a chance, ask your co-worker if they have a minute to talk. Let them know that you feel like you are not working together as well as you could. Make it clear that your intention is to improve your professional relationship, not to call them out or get them in trouble. One way to signal this intention is by using “I” language to discuss how you feel, rather than blaming the entire situation on your co-worker. Give them an example of a problematic situation and suggest a solution. Finally, ask them how you could do better, to emphasize your intention of fixing the problem on both sides! A direct, honest, and intentional conversation is an important skill for resolving any conflict.

If you have tried listening, rising above, and having a direct conversation, and you still find that your relationship with this co-worker is tenuous, all you can do is try to move past it. Take a deep breath, count to ten, and repeat. Remember – you can only control yourself and your reactions! What can you do to make the situation more comfortable? You could even have an “escape plan” of sorts in case you are in a difficult situation. For example, if you find yourself operating the same ride as that co-worker, see if a friend will switch with you, or get a friend who is on a break to tag along and diffuse the situation. Whatever you do, don’t let your difficult co-worker bring you down!

Remember that this program is about making friends, but also about gaining experience. Difficult co-workers are part of that experience and reality of any work environment. Think of this as a good chance to learn how to handle a difficult situation. Don’t take it personally, don’t take it home with you, and don’t let one bad relationship overshadow all the great ones!