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5 Tips To Stay Calm When Working With Tough Colleagues

Workplaces bring together people with different personalities, from different walks of life, and with different beliefs and personal codes of conduct. As a result, disagreements between coworkers are inevitable in any office or work environment.

Unfortunately, workplace disagreements can seriously hamper productivity—not to mention create an unpleasant atmosphere for all involved. In the worst-case scenarios, ongoing conflict can result in project failure, more workplace absenteeism, and increased employee turnover rates. That said, fighting in the workplace isn’t always negative.


In fact, Harvard Business Review argues that the occasional workplace disagreement can result in better outcomes. Conflicts may ultimately create superior products, promote growth opportunities, improve coworker relations, and generally create a more inclusive work environment.

The key to reaping these rewards is knowing how to deal with difficult coworkers productively and calmly. Read on to find out how it’s done.

5 Steps to Keeping Cool When Handling Difficult Colleagues

Remaining calm when embroiled in conflict with another person isn’t always easy. This is especially true in work environments, where the stakes are high. However, these tips for dealing with difficult coworkers can help.

1. Discuss the Issue Openly

Waiting to address a conflict with a colleague will only allow the issue to worsen. Each person will have time to dwell on the problem and any perceived slight against them. This can make for an even more explosive confrontation down the line. It’s best to clear up conflicts immediately.

Often, conflicts are simply the result of misunderstandings, not outright disagreements. Consider the big picture. Remember, all colleagues are working towards the same goal, whether it’s meeting a specific key performance indicator, KPI, metric, or completing a particular project. Technically, all involved are on the same team act like it!

When broaching the topic, focus on using “I” language instead. Using “you” statements may sound accusatory and can get a colleague’s guard up, resulting in defensive or aggressive behavior. So, instead of saying, “You missed a deadline, and my work was late as a result,” try saying, “I found it difficult to get my side of the project done on time due to the delay.”

Remain open-minded throughout the discussion. Get to know the other person’s perspective. The point of the conversation is to reach a standard solution, not to prove that one side or the other is “right” or “wrong.”

2. Project a Calm Demeanor

Maintaining a calm attitude when dealing with difficult coworkers is critical. If the individual is confronted with an aggressive or angry tone or body language, they are more likely to reflect back that same attitude. Instead, remain empathetic and focus on conveying fact-based statements.

How can a person project a calm demeanor? The tone of voice is one critical point. The tone should remain even and low. Avoid shouting. Further, body language is a crucial factor. For example, an aggressive stance might include balled-up fists, hunched shoulders, crossed arms, or legs spread apart. Instead, maintain loose and relaxed muscles.


Try to stay empathetic. Keep in mind that the other person has their own professional and personal burdens. Research shows that 34% of workplace conflict is the result of stress, while 33% results from extreme workloads. Remembering that all parties involved are facing similar stressors can help encourage a calm attitude.

3. Step Away If Necessary

Sometimes, it helps to step out of the workplace when handling a challenging colleague. In the office, it’s harder to gain perspective. People may feel more stressed and have other work-related issues occupying their minds. Taking a break to go out for a casual lunch or a walk can help both parties approach the conflict more objectively and calmly.

In some cases, it may be necessary to step away individually. For example, if the conversation is getting heated when dealing with a problematic coworker, call a personal time-out. Take a break, step away, and return to the issue at hand later. Otherwise, the problem is likely to escalate. This won’t do anyone any good.

Take a breather and vent to a friend if needed. Letting off steam is critical to staying calm when talking to a challenging colleague successfully. A third-party perspective can also help understand the other person’s side of the situation.

4. Ask for a Mediator

In some cases, two people can’t resolve their differences. In this case, it may be necessary to get a third party involved to mediate when dealing with difficult coworkers. Consult an immediate supervisor, human resources representative, or senior boss.

When consulting this third party, make sure both sides get to share their side of the story. Give the other person a chance to voice their opinions without interruption. The third-party will need to get an objective overview of the facts, which means hearing a full report from all persons involved in the dispute.

Whatever decision the senior third-party reaches, abide by it. Keep in mind that the entire point is to solve the issue for the good of the team and for the benefit of the business as a whole. This means that the outcome may not be about right versus wrong but about what is going to maintain operations in a streamlined fashion.

5. Maintain Professional Distance

Even if the immediate issue is resolved, the relationship with a demanding colleague may remain strained. In this case, it’s best to maintain distance. Stay courteous and professional, and try to engage with the other person as little as possible.

Limit interactions to those that are needed to get the job done. There’s no need to pretend to be friends over lunches, coffee breaks, or work meetings. Instead, be respectful and mindful of the other person’s feelings but keep the attitude more professional and less friendly. Try treating the other person as if they were a formal client who needs to be kept happy.

Instead, spend time with coworkers who are uplifting and positive. It’s still possible to foster excellent workplace relations, even if the connection with one individual isn’t working out. Having a steady circle of colleagues for support will reiterate that the workplace can still be a welcoming atmosphere.

The Final Word on Dealing With Difficult Coworkers

Dealing with difficult coworkers isn’t fun. However, it’s essential to keep calm when navigating conflicts in the workplace. Trust the above tips to help. While it may take some time to master these steps, it will be well worth it. Maintaining serenity in disagreements is a skill that will ultimately foster both professional and personal success.

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