Open Colleges

How to Deal With a Difficult Work Colleague

by Yvette McKenzie
Posted: June 11, 2015

  Return to blog home


By Catherine Rodie

Whether you have been in your job for a decade, a year or just a few weeks, there is nothing worse than having to deal with a difficult work colleague. Perhaps they don’t want to pull their weight, or maybe they like making you the butt of their jokes. Whatever it is, it is down right annoying and it’s starting to take its toll. So what can you do?

Lara Salembier a HR business partner from fibreHR in New South Wales, says that people don’t actively try to be difficult, so a good starting point is to try and work out what the problem is. “Get to the bottom of why the situation has become ‘difficult’ and then work towards identifying how the situation can be improved,” she says.

If you are able to, Salembier suggests starting an open dialogue with the person you are having difficulties with. “Be honest, transparent and give the person an opportunity to be heard. People generally don’t want to be difficult to deal with, they just want their point of view to be heard,” she explains.

However, if you don’t feel comfortable starting that dialogue by yourself, it might be a good idea to talk to your manager about the problem and gain their support. In some instances, your manager might be able to act as a meditator and help you resolve the problem face to face with the person you are finding difficult.

“We often find mediation sessions are a great way to air concerns or issues, agree on how the two parties can move forward and set clear expectations as to how they interact with one another in the workplace,” says Salembier.

If you don’t feel like confronting the problem head-on another option is to trouble shoot. Salembier says that there are some common reasons that people become “difficult”.

“The most common situations which can result in managers having to deal with a ‘difficult’ situation is where employees are not motivated or engaged or where there is miscommunication or a misunderstanding about expectations from a performance and conduct perspective,” she says. In these situations communication is key to resolving the situation.

Another common situation in which someone becomes difficult is when changes in the company mean that a person’s job is no longer aligned to their personal values. “You can sometimes come across employees who have been with a business a long time and the business has changed however the employee has not been taken on the journey of change or they no longer feel that the business/role is what they want to do.

“When this occurs and the business and/or employee do not do anything about the situation, it can often result in a “difficult” employee,” explains Salembier.

Other scenarios that can result in a colleague becoming difficult are, personal conflict between people, personal situations impacting work life and underlying issues like bullying and harassment.

Your HR or personnel representative will be well versed in dealing with all of these issues and can support you in dealing with the situation appropriately.

In some situations it could be that you simply don’t get along with someone, your personality’s clash and you just don’t see eye to eye. When this happens no one is really at fault and it is the situation that is difficult rather that the person you are working with.

When this happens, you don’t have many options. Salembier notes that while it isn’t an uncommon scenario, employers expect their staff to get the job done. “Employers don’t expect employees to be friends with every person they work with,” she says.

“But they do expect that employees will work professionally and cooperatively with one another to achieve the goals and objectives set by the business.”



Yvette has over a decade of professional experience at some of Australia’s largest media corporations, including Southern Cross Austereo and the Macquarie Media Network. With a degree in Communications (majoring in Journalism), she covers stories on education, new knowledge technologies and independent learning.

Interested in online study?

See what it’s like with our 7 day free course trial.

Find out first-hand what it’s like to study with Open Colleges. Experience our world-class learning platform for yourself and discover how online learning can work for you. There are no obligations and no payment details required.

Start Today

Course areas