Careers Clinic: How To Deal With A Difficult Work Colleague

Do you work with a Jekyll and Hyde character? Is there a Talented Mr. Ripley type in your office? The workplace is, at best, challenging without having to manage these characters who have the capacity to ruin an otherwise perfectly good job experience, to destroy your confidence or make your life miserable.

If you are an employee, a manager or even the boss, these characters are plentiful at every stage of your career. They come in a variety of disguises. Sometimes as friends and other times as foes but typically difficult, insecure, jealous and nasty. Unfortunately, they exist and you are bound to come across them. Learning to deal with a difficult work colleague is a key skill that you must learn. Here are some tips to keep you on course:

Never let anyone dull your sparkle

Always remember your worth and value. Your confidence is your shining armour. Once you feel that your confidence, professional or otherwise, is jeopardised by a particular person or group, immediately put distance between you and them. Remain polite and maintain your professional standards but act instantly. Never give anyone permission to quash your spirit or to take away your dreams. Listen to your gut. The instant that you notice manipulative behaviour that you do not like, even if veiled as friendship, act.

Keep cool


Keep all communication professional and above board. As much as possible do not allow yourself to be alone with this person or group. Keep all communication in writing (everything). Avoid phone contact unless absolutely necessary. Avoid any contact, including responding to emails, taking calls or answering text messages, outside of working hours. In meetings, make sure that other people are present and that there are witnesses to everything discussed.

Keep a record

Start a diary as a form of protection. Believe it or not, when you are under pressure you may forget what happened when it happened or who was around. Your diary is a contemporary record that should contain what, where and when something happened, who was close by and how it made you feel. Refrain from giving out or having an emotional outburst. Keep this for your personal journal and use your diary to record professional examples of unacceptable behaviour that have impacted or upset you.

Be Brave & Clear

As hard as it might be, and as personally challenging as it is, be brave. If the person makes unwanted comments, is nasty or displays bullying behaviour loudly ask, ?Could you please repeat what you just said to me?? Trust me, if what was said was nasty, unkind, unprofessional or rude that person will not want to repeat it. What's more, they will think a second time before doing it again.

Get Support

If things come to the point where you cannot deal with it yourself, discuss what is happening with your boss or HR. If this is not possible speak to a union representative or go to your doctor for advice. Tell a family member or a trusted friend. Do not bottle it up or keep it a secret as this is the type of situation that these people thrive in. If you are struggling to cope or manage seek support.


Don't sacrifice yourself

If you have done everything in your power to manage the situation, do not sacrifice yourself to this person or these people. Days become weeks, weeks become months, and months become years all too quickly. Try to follow all the channels open to you and leverage all your skills to deal with this person or these people.

But also realise that sometimes the problem is systemic and actually rooted in the culture of the organisation. If this is the case, no job is worth your confidence. The right thing to do is move on. Be strategic and put a plan in place. Begin to actively job hunt, secure a job, cut your losses and learn from the experience. Don't tell yourself that this is letting them win. No. This is putting you first and protecting yourself.

By Sinead Brady


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