How To Talk To A Difficult Work Colleague [Infographic]

Working With Difficult Colleagues

Difficult Conversations Communication Matters

There’s nothing like a toxic work colleague to ruin your week — week after week after week. If you’re dealing with such an emotional vampire at work, it’s time to deal with them right now, before they ruin your whole year! Naturally, the idea of confronting such a difficult character can be intimidating to start with, but if you know what you’re doing then a sensitive and informed approach can really help to clear the air.

The important thing is to have a good idea of the outcome you want before you go marching in — but to retain a little room for sympathy and compromise. If you’re being treated with seriously sub-decent levels of respect, you need to think about the boundaries you want to set before you open a dialogue. Perhaps, for example, you want to set a rule to stop them constantly interrupting you. That’s a good clear message. But something like ‘be more punctual’ is a bit more vague — a specific time limit, with consequences for repeat offences, may have better results.

But don’t forget to listen back in turn. Ask questions and try to figure out what’s at the heart of their bad behavior. This way you can try to fix the underlying problem rather than incurring further bad blood by pulling rank on your difficult colleague.

For more specific ideas on how to identify and defuse problems with errant-coworkers, check out this new infographic — and prepare to make your case with confidence and sensitivity!

How To Talk To A Difficult Work Colleague [Infographic]

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How to work with difficult people

Have you ever work with someone who you just don’t seem to get along with? It can make your working hours feel long and awkward, but the next step doesn’t have to mean looking for a new job. There are many approaches you can take to stay in control.

1. Set some ground rules on how you expect to be treated in a paragraph

Research shows that 60%-80% of difficulties at work are caused by strained relationships, so take control by setting clear boundaries of what you won’t tolerate in your interactions.

Pro tip

Define your guidelines and how you will Implement them. For example:

Ground rule-I don’t want to be chastised in front of other people.

How to implement-“I’d like to discuss this in private: let’s go into this room.”

2. Try to understand their issues fully

Be willing to put yourself in their place. Understand the real issue. Humans generally listen at a 25% comprehension right, so often it takes more effort to truly hear someone’s issues.

Pro tip

Follow these active listening techniques when engaging with your difficult colleague:

  • maintain eye contact
  • mirror their body language
  • clarify any queries
  • paraphrase their main points

3. Be a broken record to ensure you are heard

Being dismissed or ignored can be frustrating. Repetition can be a powerful tool, as shown in Studies by Richard Petty and John Cacioppo.

Pro tip

When you know you are making a strong point, repeat it twice. After the second time, ask the other person if they could repeat back your point, to ensure their understanding.

4. Stay calm

90% of top-performing professional say they are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress to look professional and actively resolve issues.

Pro tip

When in a difficult situation, take a moment to breathe deeply to help you keep calm. If you need a moment, excuse yourself to the bathroom to calm down.

5. Change your body language

Studies show that people that use positive body language are more likeable and persuasive.


When in a deadlock conversation with a colleague, suggest to change your body language (and there’s) to enable positive shift in tone.

6. Create a two-way dialogue about the issues

Psychologist Daniel goleman suggests threats to a person’s self-esteem in the eyes of others can literally feel like threats to survival. Create a dialogue about what you interpret to find out the whole picture.

Pro tip

Try saying: “here’s my interpretation of what just happened. Does that sound right to you, or am I missing something?”

Don’t say: “hear some constructive feedback.”

7. Acknowledge positive change

Focusing on positive to keep it up. A Gallup survey found that 67% of employees who is managers focused on their strengths were fully engaged.

Pro tip

When you notice someone taking a new approach based on your ground rules or feedback, tell them how much you appreciate it and the impact it is having.

8. Manage their expectations

Researchers have found that one of the most frequent causes of workplace conflict as a lack of clarity with expectations, causing frustrations and resentment to build up.


Follow a few steps to develop clearly agreed expectations:

  • ask them what their expectations of you are
  • share your expectations of them
  • agree and clarify what you can both commit to
  • use the document as a reference guide to help you deal with any future frustrations
  • write down the agreed commitments

9. Choose your battles carefully

Being in a dispute with a colleague is exhausting, and studies and Finland have shown it can also negatively affect those who witness it.


Prioritize the main issues you have and set a plan to deal with the most important ones first.

Difficult people at work and seem like a mountain to overcome, but with a few simple strategies and a bit of persistence, you can soon change the situation. And don’t forget that you’re adding new tools to your professional practice toolbox.

Good luck!