Tips for working alongside tough coworkers

by Aug 19, 2020

We’ve all been there. For a long time, we have given our best contributions and long, stressful work days to our employer. We have formed close connections with certain co-workers, and although some of our closest colleagues may move on to other organisations, we also tend to form new relationships with the current staff. There is a feeling of continuity we seem to get from moving through each year with this group of people, looking  forward to seeing them each week, and knowing who will help us out when we’re having a tough day. Then, one day, everything changes when we must begin to work alongside difficult co-workers (assuming we didn’t have that problem all along).

If that’s your case, it’s understandable that you need different ways to manage your workday while minimising the number of interactions you have. Here are some things to try.

Change your toolbox

Your workday quickly changes when you have frequent interactions with someone you don’t particularly like. You don’t feel excited about going to work and may even question whether you want to stay in the organisation. You need tools for organising the work that must be done and to keep everyone accountable.

If you and a coworker have the same boss, ask your boss to divide up a project into chunks using a shared task-list tool. While you may already have a to-do list, keep your eye on the shared list of tasks to organise yourself. It’s easier to keep everyone’s perceptions of shared work as transparent as possible. If a co-worker says there’s a problem holding up a project, ask for details.

Change your mindset

When you have to deal with tough co-workers often, your workday can feel more stressful. While you are keeping interactions to a minimum, your feelings about the workplace culture might also change, and not for the better.  

Stay focused on performing your core job duties well and embodying the values of the organisation, and try not let the negative behaviour of one colleague get you down. If anyone begins to question your work or your attendance, start monitoring your own performance with a time tracker. A good tool will allow you to produce an electronic record, which will support your performance and attendance.

It would be futile to try to change someone else, so instead  expend your precious mental energy on monitoring your own performance. You also don’t need to stay quiet when your co-worker dismisses your ideas in private conversations or in staff meetings. Be sure to put your ideas in writing.

Try to remain neutral

A major indicator of a toxic person, boss or not, is that they will want to keep you guessing about which kind of treatment you will get on a particular day or in a particular situation. Don’t get caught in front of the boss and allow this person’s toxicity to get ramped up. Learn to change your reactions to others. By this, it could mean dealing with those you have difficulties with in a neutral manner. Don’t react with obvious emotion or evaluate things as positive or negative. When you control your reactions to toxic people, they don’t get the responses they want,  and can’t feed off what you do.

Of course, if their behavior is truly worrying and making your working life unmanageable, be sure to reach out to HR. They can help provide you with options for overcoming the situation, and may be able to support your concerns if others are having the same issue.


Working alongside co-workers when you don’t get along is a challenge because you always have to stay in control of your emotions and minimise each person’s potential impact on your self-esteem. Be sure to maintain your composure when communicating via phone and digital communications, and also when at off-duty functions where these co-workers and bosses might be present.

Your behavior is the only indicator of how you value yourself as a person and that you don’t need to be affected by a toxic person. If you can master all these steps, you will be in a good position for handling a difficult working environment.

Featured image courtesy of Unsplash

Mikkie Mills

Mikkie Mills

Freelance Writer

Mikkie is a freelance writer from Chicago. She is also a mother of two who loves sharing her ideas on interior design, budgeting hacks and workplace tips. When she’s not writing, she’s chasing the little ones around or can be found rock climbing at the local climbing gym.