Most of us spend about 8-12 hours per day at work, surrounded by our co-workers – having to deal with different personalities. Sometimes our co-workers’ personalities do not match well with our own. This can lead to misunderstandings, criticism, gossip, and bullying in the workplace. Co-workers can also be challenging in always wanting to be right or better or by refusing to participate in teamwork for example. 

Dealing with a challenging co-worker can have a negative impact on your work as well as your life in general when your mental health is affected by feeling isolated or anxious at work for example. 

Here are 8 ways to deal with the challenging behaviour and/or attitude your co-worker presents with the aim of minimizing the negative impact on your workdays: 

1. Talk it through 

Before thinking about taking possible actions, try to talk to your challenging co-worker about the issue you see in a calm and mature way. They might not even realize that they are being difficult to deal with. Maybe there was a misunderstanding and there is a way to compromise. This doesn’t always work, but it is always worth a try.

2. Be friendly and give it some time to evaluate the situation 

It is usually easy to judge others during initial contact. While someone else’s behaviour is not in your control, your own is – by being calm and friendly you can see how it goes over time. You might notice that your initial impressions were wrong, and you might just need some time to get to know each other better. 

3. Minimize interaction/distance yourself from your difficult co-worker

If talking and using a friendly approach are not helpful, you may wish to physically distance yourself from your challenging co-worker. Depending on the work environment this can for example mean changing desks or even offices. While taking a step back, you can reflect on the issue from a different perspective. 

Furthermore, look out for people in your work environment you get along with instead of focusing on that one person that appears to be challenging to deal with. 

4. Avoid and set boundaries 

Especially when physical distance is not possible, you might want to set clear boundaries and take yourself out of uncomfortable situations with your challenging co-worker. Avoid getting sucked into conversations and interactions that fuel the issue further and don’t contribute to solving it. 

5. Build your coping skills by focusing on self-care 

While dealing with a challenging co-worker or situation at work in general, we often forget to switch off after leaving the office or workplace. Make sure to leave your issues at work and create an enjoyable life outside of the office – having something to look forward to after a busy and stressful day including dealing with a challenging co-worker will help you switch off and cope better. 

6. Ask a colleague for guidance

Have you wondered whether you are the only one finding your co-worker’s behaviour challenging? You may turn to a trusted co-worker and process your thoughts and feelings about the situation with them to get some input from a different perspective. This can help you decide to take the matter further. 

7. Involve your supervisor or HR

Have none of the above strategies helped to deal with the difficult behaviour of your co-worker? Especially in case there is bullying, microaggression and/or (sexual) harassment, a supervisor or HR should be informed about it to support you. 

Sometimes a supervisor or manager is the challenging individual to deal with – in this case, turn to the higher management in order to speak up for yourself and find the support you need. 

8. Change your job 

If you feel you have tried everything and nothing helps, you might want to consider changing your job. Depending on the situation, you can check for new opportunities in another department of your workplace, maybe there is a possibility to be transferred to a different location and if not, there are surely other options outside of your current workplace. 


If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Franziska Richter is a transcultural counsellor with the Willingness Team, offering counselling sessions to individuals and couples. She is particularly interested in sexuality, relationship issues, trauma, and general mental health.