The Coworker From Hell

Every office has one... the co-worker from hell. That one person who rubs everyone up the wrong way, is uncooperative, unpleasant, disagreeable... well, you get the picture. There is no magic spell that can turn them into Prince and Princess Charmings, but there are some strategies you can try that might help to make working with them less stressful.

You are all on the same team.

Despite your differences, you do rely on each other and are thrown together on a daily basis to achieve joint goals. So, if you first try to think of your work unit as a "team," and the unpleasant person as part of that team for better or for worse, then you are one step towards finding harmony.

Do you know their 'story'?

You don't know the real story behind your co-worker's unpleasantness. We are not all on the same level of evolution and it could be he/she does not have your skills or ability to cope with stresses and problems in their life, problems that you may know nothing about. There may be a very good explanation for the chip being carried on their shoulders. This does not excuse their behavior, but may explain it or make it easier to live with.

Don't take it personally.

Ignore any unpleasant behavior that is exhibited when you can and keep the lines of communication open. When this worker realizes that they are not getting a rise out of you, they will tire of the effort and "settle down." When they realize that regardless of what they say and do, you are still open and positive with them, you will gradually notice a change in the way they deal with you.

Maintain your own dignity.

Treat this co-worker with respect. It is not up to you to be judge and jury and decide on his/her worthiness - the fact he/she is a human being sharing the planet to learn and experience should be enough in itself. This means remaining pleasant and honest with them. Don't talk behind their back. Keep your own communications and interaction with them friendly and respectful.

Are you totally innocent?

For all you know, it could be a mannerism or behavioral trait of your own that sets this co-worker off. Think about the situations in which conflict has arisen... have you said or done anything that may have contributed to it? Do you react defensively all the time to this person's comments or behavior, taking everything personally? Do you hold grudges? Do your facial features or tone of voice tell this co-worker that you don't think much of them? Without being aware of it, are you putting this person down? What message, subliminal or otherwise, do you convey in your interactions with this person?

Live and let live.

Don't expect this co-worker, or any other person for that matter, to work the same as you, or be the same as you in other ways. Everybody is different. What you may see as laziness, may simply be a more laid-back, relaxed approach to work and life, or it may be a lack of confidence or a fear of failure holding your co-worker back. Observe them discreetly to see if this is the case. Maybe an offer to help them would work wonders. If you are something of a control freak, or somebody who thinks things should be done in a certain way because "you" believe that is the best way, then maybe the problem is really with you...

Making an effort.

If your co-worker seems suspicious with your "new" attempts to build a better working relationship and asks you why you're acting differently, you can deflect any potential new problems by turning it around and saying something like, "I thought perhaps I may have been a little difficult to work with, and I'm trying to be better." Even if you've been an absolute angel and the co-worker from hell has been the bad-guy all along, this type of response will not make matters worse, and may, in fact, cause them to ponder their own shortcomings and make an effort to do better themselves.

Make them feel worthy.

You never know, this co-worker may be intimidated by you, your age or experience. Maybe, in some way, you make him/her feel less worthy, insignificant. Try including them in projects... ask for their opinions. You don't have to use their suggestions, but the simple act of asking and sincerely considering it will make them feel better about themselves and their position. Many times, these troublesome co-workers are lashing out for reasons they perhaps don't quite understand themselves.

Look for common ground.

Do look at the way you interact with others in your department or organization and compare this with your interactions with the troublesome co-worker. Chances are a pattern has been established of which both of you may not be consciously aware. It is very difficult sometimes, but it is crucial not to be judgmental. Try to find things you may have in common that will permit friendly small talk. Even an opening question about a sports game that was held on the weekend may help - provided you both support the same team!

Keep your sense of humor.

Remember, you don't have to marry this person... just work with them. Try instilling a little humor into uncomfortable situations rather than reacting defensively or aggressively or emotionally.

Find out what you can about this co-worker. Discreetly!

Are they excluded from social gatherings, or are they 'shy' and stay away? Why not encourage them to participate in company functions… offer to accompany them (many co-workers from hell are really insecure inside!).

You could try the direct approach.

Just come straight out and say "Okay, this has gone on long enough. Let's bury the hatchet and start over." And in the same breath you might suggest lunch together. This approach is likely to startle and stun them… don't be surprised if they do goldfish impersonations.

Ignore them.

If all else fails, it is not your responsibility to 'save' this co-worker, and if simple remedies have no effect, it may be necessary to simply ignore this co-worker's shenanigans and only deal with them when you have to.

Call in the Big Guns.

If things are that unpleasant that you're thinking of quitting, then maybe you need to have H.R. management step in. Maybe a strong word from upper management will have a more immediate effect than anything you can do or say, especially if your co-worker is a real bully or very unpleasant to work with.

Never play their game.

Whatever you do, never resort to name-calling, insults, sarcasm, or use any of the types of tools they have in their arsenal to fling at you. Refuse to buy into their 'game'… it is "their" game - not yours!

Written by Terri Levine, MCC, PCC, MS, CCC-SLP, the Founder ofComprehensive Coaching – The Professional's Coach Training Program, a popular Master Certified personal and business Coach, sought after Public Speaker, and Author of bestsellers "Stop Managing, Start Coaching", "Work Yourself Happy", "Coaching for an Extraordinary Life" and "Create Your Ideal Body". She can be contacted via the web site at: or by telephone: 215-699-4949.


Business mentor Terri Levine specializes in helping entrepreneur-owned businesses achieve record-breaking growth. Based in Philadelphia, Terri is founder and CEO of Comprehensive Coaching U, Inc., The Professional's Coach Training Program. She has been featured on ABC, NBC, CNBC and MSNBC, and in more than 1,500 publications. She is a sought after public speaker and the best-selling author of Sell Without Selling, Coaching Is for Everyone and Stop Managing Sta...

Go Deeper | Website

Want More?

New Graphic
Subscriber Counter