« Penetrating the Corporate Immune System | Main | Taking Breaks Is Easier Said Than Done »

April 21, 2005

Overcoming Coworker Conflict

I was recently reminded of a conversation I had about 10 years ago with my manager at the time. We were having a normal conversation when I can distinctly remember his sudden outburst of laughter at something I said. I asked why he was laughing, and he said he just couldn’t believe how "green" I was. I then of course asked what "green" meant, and he laughed even harder, leaving me standing there looking quite red.

So what triggered this lovely memory? I was giving advice to a younger coworker about how to deal with some of the more difficult personalities at the office, and I realized I have come a long way since my "green" days. It has taken quite a few fumbles, but I have learned a lot about how to identify and handle different types of people in a workplace setting. It’s just too bad I can’t run into that manager again -- I could teach him a thing or two.

You may not become friends with everyone at your job, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work together. The important thing is learning how you can maneuver around these qualities. Here are five tips for overcoming a personality conflict at work:

1. Stay focused on what your goal is. Make sure you are organized and prepared for each meeting. Since you’d rather not deal with this individual more than you have to, try to be as efficient as possible to avoid additional steps in the tasks at hand.

2. Kill them with kindness. This works in all realms of life with people you might not see eye to eye with. The nicer you are, the harder it will be for them to treat you badly.

3. Get other coworkers involved. Include other people in the project you are working on. With other people around, you won’t have to deal with the individual by yourself.

4. Use other forms of communication. In my job, calling someone is usually the best way to gets things done, but when dealing with a difficult person, I tend to send more emails. This avoids any face-to-face conflicts.

5. Give them a second chance. Don’t discount a person’s efforts forever if you have only met them once. People have bad days, and it’s quite possible they are not always hard to get along with. If after a few meetings you still feel the same way, then follow the above tips and deal with them the best you can.

Share this post: Digg, StumbleUpon, del.icio.us, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Bookmark and Share

Posted by Jayme on April 21, 2005 at 11:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (33) | TrackBack (0)


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Overcoming Coworker Conflict :


I have learned it is best to "check your emotions at the door" no matter what job you have. You are not there to make friends, but it is great to build alliances. There is a huge difference. Getting too friendly, sharing feelings and opinions, as friends will do, is not something you want to do with anyone you work with, not even on lunch break. If you are able to see coworkers after work or on off days, fine, go for it. If you want a long, successful career, learn the difference between friend and alliance quickly, it will save you years of frustration.

Posted by: Tiffiney | May 13, 2005 11:03:38 AM

What a poor manager you began with. Unfortunately, sales organizations too often are unenlightened in selecting their managers. The manager you describe was so busy mentally congratulating himself on being so sharp, he forgot about you altogether. He had no mentoring skills. He should have recognized that you needed grooming and used this situation to say something like, "Let me show you why your statement is not correct so you can begin the process of personal growth which will help you avoid embarrassment in front of your customers." Smart managers recognize you will at times be buffeted around out in the marketplace, and it is their job to help you build personal confidence--they won't humiliate or diminish you in such situations.

Posted by: bulroar | May 13, 2005 2:13:39 PM

I had a boss who yelled and screamed at me for forgetting to send a fax one evening about 11 years ago and when I came to the office the next day (realizing I had forgotten to do so and to apologize and get it done) he was waiting for me. It was awful. The screaming and insults were done and said in front of two other people. I would have quit on the spot if I hadn't needed the job, plus had a lot of years in. Nothing was ever done to him. At least in today's work world, he would have probably had some consequences to face!

Posted by: Janice | May 13, 2005 4:12:38 PM

It's good to set people straight when they insult you or talk down to you in front of others. I was in a training class one time about 3 yrs ago. The trainer piped up with, if you had anything constructive to say I think I would drop dead. How insulting. After the class I told her I wanted to speak to her, and that she had no right insulting and berading me in front of others and told her she owed me an apology. Since then she has always been nice to me and always says Hello and comments to me on how positive I always am. For what it's worth, it sometimes pays to speak out.

Posted by: Mary | May 13, 2005 11:43:56 PM

Hi Jayme,

Great post on a neat subject :-) However, if you can't "Kill them with kindness" or "Give them a second chance", you could always have a look at our own around relationships in team building.

We often find that a systematic approach to conflict and particularly conflicting relationships can improve matters when all the 'obvious' things have run out of steam.

Posted by: Bruce Lewin | May 14, 2005 7:01:56 AM

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Posted by: Claire McHugh | May 22, 2005 11:49:02 AM


Iam having trouble overcoming a difficult co-worker situation....and she's already been fired. I feel she may have given some of the other people the wrong idea about me. I have always been positive at work, but this past situation has "made" me wary of people that I would love to build positive relationships with.

Posted by: Anne | Oct 28, 2005 9:26:15 PM

I am having a horrific conflict with a black coworker and she is being so horrible to me, and I've worked with her in the past and we both work for the same agency at this clients office. From experience I do know that she is incompetent in her performance and know that she is hiding her inabilities. But still there is no reason for her to be rude and talk to others about our conflict. Ticked off to the max. Help!

Posted by: Sara | Jan 17, 2006 1:17:22 PM

I have a boss that everything that I do is picked a part over and over. He always tells me that he is the boss and he isn't going anywhere. I have worked for him for 3 years now and it hasn't gotten any better. He takes all the credit for everything that I do and makes the CEO and his staff know this every staff meeting. He constantly degrades me in front of our clients. The CEO won't do anything about it. I have confronted my boss, but it doesn't help. It just makes me look like a non-team player. Could you help!

Posted by: Sue | Jan 24, 2006 1:19:52 AM

Hello Sue,
I feel your pain. Since you've been dealing with the situation for three years and have seemingly exhausted your resources in taking your grievances to higher powers it may well be time to pat youself on the back for surviving your boss' tyranny this long and start pursuing other avenues of employment. I, myself, have found that when dealing with that type of personality there is little or no chance things will change unless higher powers intervene. If I understand correctly you say that the others in your company are aware that your boss is taking credit for your work. Should that be the case it would behoove you to seek letters of recommendation from them to aide you in your search for new employment. That way, you can stand by your list of accomplishments to prospective employers.

That said, I would like to ask for advice on how to deal with a co-worker who has made it clear in no uncertain terms that she doesn't like me for no apparent reason. Our work environment dictates that we are in the same room the majority of the day, the exception being when I am or she is making inter-departmental deliveries. I have tried killing her with kindness only to be met with surly incivility. I have discussed this with the site supervisor and received nothing in so far as helpful advise or assurances that he would at least discuss treating me with common courtesy instead of contempt, with her. I've tried imagining all the usual possibilities for her attitude, such as she's territorial and the alpha in the pack, etc., which is very evident as she's been there for 5 years now and nothing gets done without her approval including the majority of what the supervisor does. HELP! I find that I have had to deal with this same type of situation in a number of past jobs and I'm still at a loss for how to deal with this type of person, one who is equally imperfect and yet is able to capitalize on the imperfections or inadequacies I have.

Posted by: Terry | Jan 24, 2006 2:56:17 AM

Comment about #3.Get other coworkers involved. With other people around, you won't have to deal with the individual by yourself. So what if the individual likes having an audience to humiliate you? I had a boss and a coworker who were both civil to me in private but once there was someone else around they felt the need to be rude and discount me. What do you do when people bully you in front of others and speaking to them privately doesn't change their behavior? How can you stand up for yourself in front of others and still maintain a level of professionalism?

Posted by: sara | Feb 7, 2006 3:34:02 PM

Trouble with a co-worker at work can add a tremendous amount of stress to your life. I have had my share of experiences. Once I had to report to a controller who replaced the one who hired me. I did everything to make a good impression on her and to build trust between us but all failed. I was at my wits end and was contemplating finding another job when I decided to get advise from my husband. He told me to confront the situation and not to run. He told me to have a sit down conversation to discuss my concerns. In my heart I did not think it would work. I spoke to two others who had the same advise so I took their advise and it worked. I took the time to plan out what I was going to say and I made sure to start with letting her know that I know I've done some things to make her upset and I wanted to take the time to apologize. The result was contrary to my belief. We gt along a lot better now and I do my best to stop in to say hello and hold a brief converstation with her each day just to keep a positive flow.

Posted by: Yvette | Feb 8, 2006 6:01:01 PM

This reply is to Terry, regarding the incivility and rudeness you are encountering with a co-worker, despite your best efforts to be nice to her. Since neither she nor the supervisor have any intention of fixing the situation, GO TO HUMAN RESOURCES. That's what they're there for, and I should know: I'm in human resources myself. Make sure you document, in writing, each and every time this person is rude to you or treats you disrespectfully. I suggest an email to human resources, and printing out a copy of the email for your own records. When you meet with human resources, have that hard copy on hand to refer to. That email has to be as specific as possible. Don't write, "She was mean to me." Write, "On 11 a.m. on Tuesday the 28th, I went into the coffee room and encountered ______ who said to me, ...." etc. When it happened, how it happened, who did it/said it, etc. If there is no response from human resources within a day or two, send an email to the human resources contact person's supervisor. Don't let this slide. There are State and Federal laws regarding workplace hostility, and clearly you are in a hostile situation right now. It is the responsibility of human resources to show proof that they have dealt with a complaint of a hostile workplace. Believe it or not, human resources managers can be fired if shown in a court of law to be negligent in this responsibility. You can contact your State Department of Labor regarding your rights if the company does not address the issue, and most certainly contact the Dept of Labor if the company or your supervisor attempts to retaliate on you for bringing the matter up -- including if they attempt to fire you. So don't wait another minute: get serious about this. You'll be doing yourself and every other person in that department a favor.

Posted by: Anna | Mar 8, 2006 10:51:46 PM

Replying to Anna - great words of advice! One comment though, I have 'stood up' to the bully in my office and defused situations which have arisen as they occurred. I continue to 'approach with kindness' and move on/let it go... Today the silent treatment is the current mode of 'retaliation'. (It's actually no bother at all!!) Conflict is bound to occur and people should try to address it so that everyone can move from it. The most ironic part is that my company 'bully' IS the HUMAN RESOURCE DIRECTOR!!! What do you do with that?

Posted by: StillSmiling | May 12, 2006 10:06:58 AM

I am working with a controlling person who seems to want to change everything to her way or no way, even with out asking. She goes in and changes my reports to her way and then leaves them on my desk to see or just changes them and then I find out when I come upon them. She say's hurtful things and is taking over my job responsibilities. I love my job and have talked to my boss's, get this, she is one of the boss's wife’s who is there to fill in and is taking over. She is not being paid and I have tried to be nice and respect the fact she is the boss's wife. I wish she would back off and leave my things alone. Loosing patients and feel hurt by her.

Posted by: lynn | Jul 19, 2006 1:54:12 AM

I work for a sports team, we have a lot of young people working there. I am older, and have had alot more experience than most of them but I dont ever use that against anyone there. But because they are so young they act so immature. Daily office goings on is horseplay, everyday. Even when the boss is there but moreso when hes not. It just boggles my mind. Hes aware of it but hes so busy that he doesnt have time to really deal with it. It is tiring going in everyday having to deal with the workplace drama that goes on there. Most of the girls and guys there talk about dating, love, my space, etc. It gets so old and it is very distracting. Well, because im older I seem to be the target to be bullied. I know they email and talk about me, I have proof from one email. My boss is aware of this, and he has really been a help to ease my mind but not to stop the bullying. How do I deal with these younger coworkers? Any suggestions?

Posted by: Feeling old | Jul 20, 2006 1:15:24 AM

Hi everyone

i have a difficult coworker to deal with. he uses every single chance to put me down in front of others. then, he calls it jock" rather than improper comment. if i go to talk to my supervisor , he will say that i am not a team player . what should i do? please advise

Posted by: sara | Jul 24, 2006 8:35:07 PM

I have recently changed careers and training on-the-job in a new field. I have found the transition very exciting (and scarey). The job is fast-paced and there's loads to learn and quick! I have received mostly positive feedback and a few pats on the back so far, however, I have one co-worker (highly regarded & superior to me)who I am having trouble relating to. I sense that she is frustrated with me for not knowing everything yet - though I've been told by others that I'm picking up the job very well. She gets angry with me in front of clients, barks orders and I find her unapproachable. I notice she doesn't speak to most others this way. I am finding her behaviour extremely rude and disrespectful. I feel I am a good worker - efficient & easy to get along with, though I feel I can't do one thing right with her.The job is stressful enough without having to work with a surly superior everyday. It is causing me great angst in my new job and and my confidence is twindling fast. How do I get her respect? To top it off I find it extremely hard to confront people like this. I'm in my 30's and find all this very degrading.

Posted by: Lou | Jul 29, 2006 7:49:16 PM

I have worked for past seven years, but all the trouble seemed to have started since i changed my job. I work with two other co workers and my boss.
Out of three of us one is guy and other one a girl. This guy being the only one enjoys everybit when some problem arises btw me and other lady co worker. Not only that he takes sides and humiliates and insults the person on the other side. Initially i was giving him back his BS, but this is not who i am. I want to live in peace.Recently he has become more abusive and thinks he is the boss of both of us. please help!!!!!

Posted by: feelingsick | Aug 8, 2006 11:47:36 PM

I am having a stressful time dealing with a co-worker who has worked for this office for 25 years and has absolutely no work ethic at all. From sleeping at her desk to taking long lunches to just not doing her job, she does it well and gets away with it. Personal phone calls all day on either her work phone or cell phone. Body odor so bad you have to hold your breath when you walk by. (we have taken to using candles to relieve the odor). She also lies about everything when confronted at all about why something is not done. As far as sleeping at her desk, she apparently told our boss she has a sleeping disorder. But we know it to be her lifestyle..she drinks and parties a lot and doesn't get enough sleep. She sits at her desk and puts some paper in front of her and sleeps (for four years now). The problem is all of administration knows about her and they are afraid she will sue for age discrimination if they say anything so they say nothing. I don't think this is fair to the rest of the office. What are your thoughts?

Posted by: Carol | Aug 13, 2006 4:24:26 PM

Anne, what difference does it make that your co-worker is black?

Posted by: Why | Sep 21, 2006 12:57:07 PM

Hi, I believe that when I find someone who is difficult at work, it is actually a reflection of who I am. I find that coworkers are lazy and want to load more work on me, instead of looking at it in a positive way. Like they trust me and they are giving me more responsibilities. I see that people have favoritism with someone, instead of looking at the fact that favoritism comes into play because she is positive and I am not. Instead of looking and counting on how much more I do at work and how slow others are, I am starting to look at the fact that working harder and faster will make me into a more valuable employer. I am now making sure I accept the fact that my coworkers will have some aspects that I dislike; however, that does not make them a difficult person. That just makes them human. Accepting them is so hard. I just want that supervisor to learn Spanish so I would not have to work harder. I want to stop thinking about her comment when she said that this is an English speaking country, when she knew that in this job you have to be culturally empathetic. But that is what gets me… this constant self-righteousness… it only affects me. I also love my job, so I will do everything in my power to change the only person I can change… me. Also, I am being aware of my stress level, and making sure I do not get stressed. I am making sure that I am not sulking in peoples flaws or my own. I am now looking at my participants who come in my clinic as starfish that need to be sent back to the sea. On every child’s eye I see hope for a better future for them, and that is what makes me swallow my pride and ego. ……………………………………..

If you want to be happy one day, go fishing.
If you want to be happy one month, get married.
If you want to be happy for a year, win the lottery.
If you want to be happy for a life time, love your job…………………………………………I am now giving to others what I needed that was not given to me.

Posted by: killingmyego | Nov 4, 2006 11:48:40 PM

It's very good for me to know that I am not alone! I'm working with a guy who was actually written up by HR over three years ago for harassing me, but his behavior hasn't gotten much better. In fact, he's influenced other people to shun me. Now, this is not a professional environment--it's a warehouse, and it's JUST a job. Still, he's very hard to deal with, and he's extremely paranoid and believes that I am doing things to bother him, when I am actually doing my level best not to rattle his cage. Management is not going to do anything for me--I know this. A few months ago, another woman quit this warehouse because she was being horribly harassed by several people, and management knew about it, and let it happen. Actually, I've been shunned by her harassers, too, because I provided an ear for her.

Perhaps I'm just venting,here. I'm not going to quit this job, because I like the benefits and vacation hours. I just wish managers were trained in conflict resolution.

Posted by: actonbell | Nov 7, 2006 9:45:15 PM

I recently started a position as the Office Administrator/Office Manager. This is an extremely busy position, with about 100 plus employees within this branch office location. When the company was smaller, my position also handled the front desk receptionist. Since it's grown, my position was divided into two. We brought in a temp-to-hire receptionist. She's only been on the job since right before Thanksgiving. Both managers want the work flow direction to come through me; however, I have not done too much supervising, very minimal. I was asked by both managers to sit in on the receptionist interviews, and I chose the one I thought would be a good team player following her resume credentials and the actual interview. However, things have gone downhill in the last 2 to 3 weeks, and again she's only been here that long! I could "feel" something on the very first day. Both managers expect someone (me) to run the office operations as smoothly as possibly and most of the admin stuff will come through me. I don't really consider myself bossy, but I can take the ball and run with it. This new receptionist, I feel, does not want to take direction from me, so I have basically backed off. How will this look to my bosses, will they think I am not following their expectations of me? Or will this woman eventually hang herself? I get the feeling she is marking her territory. I brought this problem to one of my bosses a couple days before Thanksgiving. Before we called the receptionist in the office, I discussed some of the problems I was facing in just a very short time, and how it really surprised me to have some one this new, and also being a temp show such attitude. I was hesitant on saying this, but I went ahead and said I felt there was some game playing going on, and my boss agreed, she felt it too. But, I don't know if she meant she felt it from the receptionist, or from both of us? I too have done temp work for quite a while and I would never show such attitudes. I am perm with this company, I plan to stay, and I finally feel I have found a work home. However, I am at BIG TIME loss as what to do with this problem? I have no other problems with any one else in the office, it's just her. I feel that it is something personal she has pegged on me and, now it has escalated out of portion, and feel that if is something personal it will never be brought to light? The receptionist told my boss in our before Thanksgiving conversation, that she felt I bullied her and I would never address her by her first name. I am totally against bullies, and have been ever since I was a kid, I am almost inclined to say she is the bully and she's bullying me. I don't know all the names of each member at the office yet, but I am getting there. As far as addressing her by her first name, it really never occurred to me that something like this would be a problem. I look at this situation as being a little on the sensitive side from this person and feel she is basically wearing her feelings on her sleeve! Any help would be most appreciated. Thanks.

Posted by: Ann | Dec 3, 2006 2:57:09 PM

I recently got hired in a warehouse setting.

Many of the co-workers I work with are respectful individuals. However, there is an individual (A) that I work with time to time that does not like me at all. When he talks to other co-workers at work, his tone is very enthusiastic and jolly. But when I talk to him, he either ignores me (does not reply to my questions) or if he does respond, he responds in a low tone voice with a little 'comment'.

One day, I was trying to find my papers so I can get what I need to the floor (front store). I did not know it was his papers, he told me "not to touch his f**king papers" in a indirect and meaningless way (smooth indirect tone), while talking to another individual beside him. I felt embarrassed and not welcome.

The other day, another co-worker (B) of mine asked me to bring down a large product from the warehouse. However, I had 10 minutes left before my time was done for the day (8:00 hour shift), while I was completing another assigned task by my supervisor in bringing five heavy products from a room to the warehouse. I told my co-worker to ask another person in my department to do it (their shift started 30 minutes ago -- at the time), because I was completing a task assigned by my supervisor. By the time I was done my shift, I went over 10 - 20 minutes to do a little touch up on somethings in the warehouse (keeping notes for the night shift workers). I went to the warehouse and saw the individual A and co-worker B, they made some comments about not having to prioritize and not living up to the values of valuing your co-workers first (for declining a request for not taking down a product from the warehouse). I felt disgusted and treated like crap, I worked hard within the 8 hours and of my shift, plus I worked by the self within that 8 hours. One person was suppose to be with me within that 8 hours. But called in sick.

I always greet them, but they sometimes never great me back (individual A and co-worker B). This is before those situations happened.

I am a very nice person, I respect every individual that I work with. I am sometimes too empathetic with people who treat me like crap and forgive them later on. I hate this sh*t.

Can someone help me or guide me in dealing with this type of situation?

Posted by: Average Joe | Dec 20, 2006 3:16:58 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.