Dealing with difficult colleagues and workplace conflict? Try this

Tips to become more resilient in the face of workplace conflict - and prevent it happening again in future.

A positive and healthy workplace culture is important for a resilient business. 

Why should you spend 3 minutes reading this blog?

  • Difficult colleagues are inevitable, knowing how to deal with them can make a huge difference to your work day. 
  • It’s written by someone with 20+ years’ experience in human resources and resilience building. 
  • It will help you build better relationships - even with that ‘challenging’ colleague. 

There is nothing productive about workplace conflict and difficult colleagues. Tense interactions with peers cause stress and anxiety, which impairs decision-making, focus and overall well being. For managers who haven’t had conflict resolution training, navigating the waters of workplace conflict is time consuming and extremely intricate. 

It’s not an uncommon issue. We all have certain colleagues that we find difficult to interact with. It will vary for each of us, depending on what type of personalities and behaviours we are more comfortable with. 

In a workplace environment, it can become problematic as you are in close proximity to a wide range of people - which increases the odds of encountering someone you may label as ‘difficult’. You may find them intrusive, too talkative, interruptive or not open to advice - to name a few. 

While it may be tempting to avoid them, this can cause disruption to the workplace by inhibiting team collaboration, communication, stress levels and team culture. It can be especially tricky if you’re the manager. Here’s how to cope with workplace conflict in a productive way:

1. Start with you:

Often, the best place to start when addressing a workplace conflict issue or difficult colleague is ourselves. It may be hard to hear, we know - but stay with us. Regardless of who is more ‘at fault’, the reality is - we have no control over how other people behave or the actions they make. What we can control - and change - is how we view them. 

2. Find your calm before you act:

When we experience stress or anxiety triggers our brain can go into reactive mode, which impairs our decision making and makes us more emotional and overwhelmed. Become aware of what’s really going on for you, to diffuse the situation.

3. Think critically to identify the underlying issue: 

Ask yourself - is it just your colleague’s behaviour that is difficult, as opposed to the person themselves? Perhaps they only exhibit this behaviour at certain times, when they’re feeling under pressure or triggered by stress themselves. Is someone really being ‘difficult’, or are they just under pressure themselves? Is it possible this person simply doesn’t have enough clarity around what’s acceptable within the workplace? If so, try taking steps to inform them of this rationally. 

4. Try to reframe their behaviour 

Use reframing techniques to see their behaviour as a strength. A ‘know it all’ could just have a love of shared learning. Someone you label as ‘stubborn’ could be celebrated for their grit and determination. An ‘overthinker’ could add a lot of value when it comes to reviewing details. Training your brain out of its negative bias and reframing situations more positively can only stand to improve your working day. 

Dealing with difficult colleagues and conflict in the workplace can be tricky, but there are ways to manage it productively and generate a positive outcome for all parties. Resilience is a key attribute for being able to thrive through workplace challenges - and it’s something that we can all build with the right training.

Our masterclasses offer a number of strategies and practical solutions for managing workplace conflict, and we can tailor them to your specific situation.

Take a look at our masterclasses to start building your team’s resilience and boosting your bottom line.

About the author

Wendy Jenkins OAM

Wendy Jenkins is no stranger to change and adversity. As a newlywed looking forward to her next chapter, Wendy was diagnosed with a life-threatening lung condition and given two years to live without a rare and risky transplant procedure. While lucky enough to match with a donor, the transplant left Wendy with ongoing complex health issues, which prevented her from having children, shortened her life expectancy, and led to severe depression and PTSD. 

More than 16 years later, Wendy is a certified resilience coach and instructor, successful entrepreneur, sought-after speaker and a strong advocate for advancing forward - not just bouncing back. A highly experienced human resources practitioner and applied science graduate with honours, Wendy is dedicated to empowering forward-thinking businesses and individuals to be their best through neuroscience-based resilience training.

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