How to Improve Your Relationship with a Difficult Coworker
Hcareers / APRIL 12 2021

There will always be people with whom we don’t get along, at school, at work, and even among our own families. It’s just a fact of life. 

Undoubtedly you’ve already encountered trying guests if you work in the hospitality industry. These are never pleasant interactions, but it’s important to keep in mind that it’s your job to make sure they are satisfied with their experience. It’s also worth keeping in mind that you likely only have to deal with them for a limited amount of time before they check out.  Difficult coworkers, however, are another story. 

Everyone endures challenging colleagues throughout their careers. They may have bad attitudes. They may be overly meticulous about details that don’t really matter. They may be prone to giving their coworkers orders in an effort to demonstrate “leadership.” The list of qualifications that define a challenging coworker is endless. But there are also a variety of ways in which you can handle the situation. 

Measure Your Response

Clearly getting angry or upset at work is not one of them. So you will need to learn how to control your own emotions if you haven’t already developed a strategy for self-regulation. You never want to respond to your coworker on a personal level. Instead, try to keep a level head and understand what’s motivating the other person. Are they having a bad day? Are they stressed over something happening in their personal life?

Keep in mind that we don’t know everything about our coworkers. So try to show some empathy, just as you would to a guest. This is when your word choices matter. Say thank you if your coworker is trying to offer advice or acknowledge that they make a good point if they’re trying to explain an issue or another way to go about doing work. Even if what they’re saying doesn’t seem helpful or practical, it may be well-intended.

Avoid Making a Bad Situation Worse 

Are they exhibiting a reoccurring personality trait that affects everyone at work? They may simply be emotionally immature or they could be unhappy with their job. Whatever the case may be, you shouldn’t take their words or actions to heart. Chances are that other coworkers and possibly even some managers have already noticed this person’s negative behaviors. In these instances, you definitely should not take anything your coworker says or does to heart. Acknowledge what he or she has said, but do so neutrally and try to avoid engaging in the negativity.

Most importantly, don’t let this person’s behavior distract you from doing your own job. Plus, you can take comfort in the fact that as an industry-focused on guest service, these coworkers aren’t likely to last long in their jobs because no hotel or restaurant manager will want to risk a bad online review. 

Talk It Out

If you’ve repeatedly had challenges with a coworker, you could simply tell them that you’d like to improve your working relationship with them and ask if they would be open to having a discussion with you about it. If they accept the invitation, be sure to start the conversation by telling him or her what you value about them as a coworker and why that makes you want to have a better relationship. Then gently let him or her know where you feel your professional dynamic could be improved.

Also, ask for their feedback. Are there ways in which he or she thinks you could better work together? Once you agree upon some steps that could be taken toward a more collaborative rapport, you might also acknowledge that neither of you should expect the situation to improve overnight. Likely any relationship, it will take time and work on both sides. 

Last Resort

If a coworker is truly unbearable and you can’t find a solution on your own for bettering your relationship, you still have options. You might consider looking for a new job or seeking a position in another department within your current organization if that’s an option. That latter will allow you to stay on with the company and could even benefit your career if you view the experience as another department as a means of becoming a better professional –and leaving that difficult coworker behind is just another benefit to moving forward on your career path. 

The other option is to bring the issue to your supervisor. Frankly, telling your boss that you and a colleague aren’t getting along has the potential to backfire. You could come across as an employee who isn’t a team player. Moreover, managers who have to sort out issues between their staff could be viewed by others within the company as having a weak team. So don’t be surprised if your supervisor is hesitant to get involved. That said if you have a tense relationship with a coworker because you’ve witnessed them doing something illegal or if they have been physically aggressive towards you, be sure to tell your supervisor. They will want to resolve situations like this quickly for the sake of the company’s reputation.