A decent person’s manual for dealing with crabby coworkers

As the owner of a management consulting company in Boca Raton, Fl., Dr. Amy Cooper Hakim spends her days coaching people to develop better workplace relationships.

But you don’t have to travel to Florida to benefit from Hakim’s knowledge. Her book, “Working with Difficult People” with co-author Muriel Solomon, it’s basically a guide on how to best resolve conflict in today’s tech-infused work. In it, you’ll find strategies for dealing with 10 kinds of culprits, from tyrants and bullies (regular and cyber) to the pushy and presumptuous.

Hakim generously agreed to give us a crash course on dealing with crabby coworkers. So get comfy and keep reading.

It’s not only on your head. You know you’re dealing with a difficult coworker when …

He or she makes it tough for you to do your job. He or she may be be clingy, interrupt you, gossip about you, steal your ideas, or act like a bully.

You’ll make things worse by …

  • Getting involved in (or sucked into) his or her drama
  • Fighting like a school kid
  • Yelling at or demeaning the coworker
  • Spreading gossip about him or her

Something that actually works …

If a coworker constantly interrupts you when you are trying to get your work done, physically stand up when he comes into your office. That sends a clear message that you are not available. If he still wants to chat, smile and say, “I’m slammed. I can’t take a break until I finish this project.”

A one-on-one chat is preferred when …

You have to work closely with this colleague every day. Smile and use a kind tone to soften the blow of a tough message.

Try these lines:

“In order for me to be most successful, I need…” or “I really struggle to get my work done when…”

Tell your manager or HR if …

The colleague is disrespectful, deceptive, or caustic.

Telltale signs of a difficult coworker:

He or she is clingy, interrupts you, gossips about you, steals your ideas, acts like a bully.

Never leave a job because of nasty coworkers unless …

You do not have a supportive boss, and if the coworker’s difficult behavior impacts you emotionally or affects your work quality or output.

You might be one being difficult. One way to test this is by …

Paying  attention to your colleagues’ reactions. Do they speak in hushed tones around you? Do they appear frustrated when paired with you on a project? If yes, ask one colleague who you respect for her honest opinion and advice.


Before confronting a difficult coworker, have a practice session at home. If possible, role-play with a loved one. Your colleague will take you more seriously if you look he or she in the eye while confidently sharing a well-rehearsed message.

Responses were edited for space and clarity.


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