May 11, 2022

How to Deal with Difficult Coworkers

I'm Melissa
I'm a Career and Leadership Coach for Women in Pharma/Biotech. I've been where you are, and I help you create the career you want without working more hours or settling for good enough.
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We have all had a difficult coworker in our career.  Whether it’s because they don’t respond, are rude, a “know it all” or just hard to work with, one thing is for sure, difficult coworkers can make your work day stressful, inefficient, and even make you dislike your job. Don’t worry, this episode is going to help you.

Tune in to learn the simple steps you can take to handle any challenging colleague, diffuse the situation, and get the winning outcome you want.

What You’ll Learn

How to always know how to handle any colleague

How to feel empowered during conflict

3 Steps to Deal with Any Difficult Coworker

Featured in This Episode

Episode – Master Difficult Conversations

Download the Master Difficult Conversations Worksheet
Work with Melissa 1-1 by scheduling a consultation.

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Welcome to Navigating Your Career, the only podcast that blends personal development, professional skills, and psychology to help you get happy at work and live the life you want. If you want to stop feeling stuck and start are feeling better, this is the place for you. I’m your host, Melissa Lawrence. Let’s get started.

Hello, and welcome to this week’s episode of the podcast. How are you the time that I’m recording this? It is raining and very wet outside. It’s raining pretty hard and so hopefully you can’t hear it or maybe it’ll be a nice calming background noise. So on the East Coast, the weather has just been all over the place. It’s been 80 degrees one day, 50 degrees the next. And I hope we can level out at some point. And it’s funny because talking about the weather made me realize that is a little bit about what we’re going to talk about today and the experience you can have with Difficult Coworkers, where one day everything is great and ideal and the next you’re wondering, is it you? How did they get this far in their career? I mean, who does that? The temperature of these relationships can be all over the place. So when you think about Difficult Coworkers, just to level, set and know that we’re all on the same page, this can be someone who doesn’t respond to your emails, maybe doesn’t follow through on actions are a know it all and their way is the only right way.

Isn’t skill that seeing other people’s perspectives or even your perspective. Maybe they’re challenging personally with the way that they speak or carry themselves. Maybe they’re ineffective in meetings or are rude. But one thing is for sure, we have all dealt with Difficult coworkers in our careers and this is a topic I have been talking about a lot with my clients in the last few weeks. With one client, she had a few challenging colleagues. One was a perfectionist and thought his way was the only way to handle things down to the slide level. He was particular about every detail on each slide in a project and I can resonate with that. I remember back in my instructional designer days many years ago, that is something that would frustrate me as I have this expertise in the way that slides would be formatted colors to use, but everyone has their own preference. And so I would send them to my boss or to someone for feedback and they’d be like, I don’t like that color. Well, could you change this word to that word right after you spent so much time on it? And so that was something that this client was experiencing something similar to that, but at a much more scientifically technical level.

Another had a hard time letting go of a project that was supposed to be transitioning to my client. Another example, her new boss was very micromanagerial and seemed to be testing her and challenging her or flexing, as my kids would say, to show dominance. And another of my clients examples, there was a stakeholder where they weren’t responding to her request for information and ignoring her email. So all of these situations are different clients and different conversations I’ve had in just the last couple of weeks, and the list goes on. But all of these examples of these challenges that my clients are facing at work with these challenging co workers or these difficult coworkers is something that if it’s happening at this level right now, I’m sure it’s happening with you, too. So I wanted to talk about it here on the podcast and give you some help and a strategy to deal with this. So let’s talk about how to deal with Difficult coworkers. And I’m going to approach this with the strategy that you can use, regardless of who the coworker is and the challenge that you’re facing. Of course, we could get into the detail of each of those scenarios that I talked about, but that would be a very long episode, and that is really what we do in coaching.

That is, the purpose of coaching is to work through those types of challenges and work through a strategy that is going to get you moving forward and effective in the result that you want to get in those conversations. So I do want to provide you with a framework, though, something that you can do to cut the stress and gain back your positioning and your power in this situation. And I also want to reference that I have an earlier episode that you may like, Master Difficult conversations. And so this could be really useful. It gets really into the detail of a conversation framework that you can use. And there’s even a worksheet you can download that’s completely free that guides you through my framework and how to position your conversation and get a winning outcome using the strategy and framework that I provide in that episode. Master Difficult conversations. So I will link to that in the show notes so that you can check it out if you missed it, because that will be a great companion to this episode. I’m going to provide the strategy for handling any difficult co worker, and then when you get down to the micro level of having an actual conversation with this colleague, you can use that episode, and that worksheet to help prepare for that.

Okay, so you have a challenging coworker. Here are some steps that you can follow to diffuse the situation and deal with the person from a place of empowerment. So step one is to Zoom out. Let’s look at the situation objectively and out of the detail that you may be in at the moment. Ask yourself, what is it that you need from this person and why the why is going to give you some insight into the purpose and help you see the big picture. What is it that you’re trying to accomplish what is the bigger picture goal. Sometimes we can get really tangled in the weeds and lose sight of the purpose of our interaction or what we’re trying to accomplish. With the challenging coworker, it can easily get personal. And if you do something you don’t like, or if they do something that you don’t like or you take offense to, you’re going to have all sorts of thoughts about that person and then everything they do and don’t do is going to further prove to you how difficult they are. And although this is natural behavior, it isn’t helpful. I’ve dealt with my fair share of colleagues as well.

That can be challenging and I know that you are trying to do the best job and may even be in the right about the situation. But being frustrated and being stuck on that detail is really only going to hurt you and whatever it is you’re trying to solve in the long run. So you really want to Zoom out. That is your first step. The second step is to establish what the winning outcome is. So what does this other person want and what do you want? Now, you should be able to answer this a bit more. After zooming out and after you have that big picture like what is the big picture winning outcome? How can you both get what you want? This isn’t about giving in to the other person, but rather looking at what is going to be beneficial and advantageous for you, for them, and for the company. If you stay stuck in stressed, who is that hurting? It’s hurting you. The other person isn’t concerned about your stress level. So after you Zoom out, determine what is the winning outcome for both of you. Again, you can dig into this in the Master Difficult Conversations episode and worksheet to frame this in a really productive way so that when you have the conversation you are presenting it from a place that is going to get that buy in and help you move forward.

Now step number three, problem solve. To get to your winning outcome, think through how you can get to your winning outcome. Things to consider would be the big picture by zooming out. Also that every person has their own perspective, their own version of reality, and every person has blind spots. So as much as you don’t agree, their reality is their truth and there is a reason that they are doing what they are doing or not doing, even if it’s not right or effective. So at home it’s so funny. I remember years ago I started saying everyone has their own story, right? And at home my wife would get so frustrated with me because she would have something that she wanted to vent about at work and I would go right into talking about what would their perspective be and really using this framework and the tools that I provide you on the podcast and through these downloads that I give you really using those for so many years now. And I would kind of go to that place and she wasn’t at that place yet where she could go into the problem solving mode. Right.

Because she wanted to vent and just feel support from her partner. Right. And so that is something that I have had to learn to turn that coach brain off at home. So that is perfectly normal, right? We’re not robots. We have a lot of feelings and emotions. So if you are frustrated and you want to vent, vent, get it out. Talk about how wrong it is, how awful it is, Journal it out. Like let yourself feel what you feel. There’s nothing wrong with that. But once you get those feelings out, then it’s time to really problem solve. How can you move forward? How can you get the result that you want so that you’re not feeling frustrated and you’re not having the same conversation where you’re complaining about the same person over and over again? So do you need to talk to the person directly and confront the conflict? Is this something that you can achieve if you change your approach? For example, if someone isn’t responding to your email, could you set up a meeting? If someone is being very critical of your work, what can you gain to listen and hear their perspective?

If you have a boss that is micromanaging you and do you understand why and what they need? How can you take your power back a bit and address this? Is this a conversation you could have with them to ask them how they like to work, what level of detail they like to see, what level of decisions that are comfortable with you making and why? Don’t be afraid to have the conversation. There is always a solution to every problem. First you have to Zoom out and look at the situation objectively and try to get to a neutral place. That was that first step. There’s a tool I teach my clients to be able to do this, to become aware of their emotion, remove it so you can easily see clearly what that big picture is. But you have to be able to Zoom out and really look at that and then decide what is the winning outcome that is going to get you moving forward to make progress and be a win win for both of you. Then what is the solution to get to that winning outcome? What can you try? What might be the real issue and how can you be agile to determine what it is?

At the end of the day, you can’t control other people. You can only control what you do, what you think, your reactions. Sometimes my clients can think that they are giving in by adjusting their own behavior. But what you’re really doing is demonstrating your leadership, competencies, being an investigator and effectively problem solving. You’re learning to manage your mindset and emotions during challenging times and you’re being strategic because at the end of the day your stress and unhappiness is impacting you and those around you not these coworkers that can be difficult, you’re giving them too much power. You have to take care of you and by combining career strategy with perspective and mindset you get the winning combination to be more effective to grow your career and overall be happier in your life. You can use the strategy from today’s episode with your personal relationships as well as well. It doesn’t just apply to work. That is one of the many great things about coaching is the skills you learn and the shifts you make they really apply to every part of your life. So whether it’s working with me directly in coaching or taking these episodes that I share with you every week and applying a little nugget, a little piece every week, it’s going to help you grow and have a ripple effect to every part of your life.

All right, that is all for today’s episode so give this a try. Let me know how it goes. You can always send me a message or tag me on LinkedIn I’d love to see how you are applying what you learn on the podcast. Have a great week.

Coaching with me is the best way to guarantee you get happy at work and achieve your career and life goals. Getting started is easy. Head over to to learn more and apply it is the first step to get you from feeling stuck to knowing exactly what you want and have the tools to make it a reality. I will be by your side the entire way.

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No longer settles for “good enough”

Hi, I’m Melissa.

Career & Leadership Coach for Women in Pharma/Biotech

I'm a former Talent & Development leader in Pharma/Biotech turned CEO and Certified Professional Career & Life Coach. I also host the podcast, Your Worthy Career.

I've been where you are, and I help you create the career you want without working more hours or settling for good enough.

I'm leading a movement of women in the industry who are figuring out exactly what they want and shattering the glass ceiling. The very real ceiling in the industry, but also the one that we impose on ourselves. 

So long, imposter syndrome and overthinking. It's time to step into the impact and life you're worthy of having.

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