Career & Finance

5 Types of Difficult Co-Workers (and How to Deal With Each)


You spend a lot of time with your co-workers. And in a perfect world, you’d have a great relationship with each and every one. You’d be perfect team members in the office, head out for happy hours after work, and never have a single issue or problem between you.

But, unfortunately, that’s not reality—we’re all different and the workplace can be a high-pressure environment. So, there’s bound to be conflict and a few colleagues that make you grit your teeth and clench your fists on occasion.

If you’ve worked in different office settings already, you know that there are a few types of difficult co-workers that pop up again and again, regardless of where you’re working—and I’m not just talking about the guy who repeatedly stinks up the office by burning his popcorn in the break room microwave.

So, here are five common and difficult co-worker personalities, as well as how to best deal with each.

1. The Competitor

Whether it’s a meeting, a project, or your company’s kickball team, this person insists on being overly competitive about everything. She attempts to one-up you in every single conversation and steamrolls you when it’s your turn to speak in a department meeting.

Even a friendly fundraising contest amongst your teammates turns into an all-out brawl when she’s involved—she can’t stand to come second in anything.

While competition in the workplace can be a positive quality, this co-worker takes it to the next level.

While competition in the workplace can be a positive quality (it pushes everyone to be better, after all!), this co-worker takes it to the next level. Her attitude and overly aggressive tendencies make you (and everyone else) feel frustrated, uneasy, and exhausted.

DO THIS: What’s the best way to shut down someone who insists on competing in everything? Refuse to be competitive.

No, this doesn’t mean you should throw up your hands and only turn in shoddy work. But, when it comes to this person’s senseless and counterproductive competitions, refuse to engage. Yes, it can be tough to resist the temptation to join the race—particularly if you’re a competitive person yourself.

But, do your best to stay focused on your own work and avoid feeding into that person’s desire to constantly be in the top spot. Remember, there’s no way to win if there’s no competition in the first place.

2. The Gossiper

This co-worker gossips so frequently, you don’t even know what his voice sounds like when it’s not coming off in a snarky, whispering tone. Whether he says something backhanded about Jason’s promotion or is speculating about Amanda’s closed-door meeting with your supervisor, he’s absolutely always talking about someone in the office.

You know better than to be involved in petty office gossip and drama. But, this person seems impossible to shut down. He doesn’t seem to care if you’re listening or not—he just keeps on talking.

DO THIS: When it comes to avoiding office gossip, you’ll need to be direct and forward to make it clear that it’s not something you want to be involved in (because, believe me, you don’t!).

When this co-worker approaches you with whispers and hushed remarks, you need to speak up and shut him or her down immediately. Respond with something like, “I’m really not comfortable talking about our colleagues behind their backs. Hey, by the way, how’s your half marathon training going?”

This sends the message immediately that you won’t participate in gossip, and then shifts the conversation directly back to him or her so you can continue on friendly terms. This person obviously loves to talk, so he should have no issue jabbering on about his or her own life.

3. The Non-Responder

You emailed this co-worker about a big project deadline on Monday. It’s now Thursday afternoon, and you still haven’t heard from her—even after a follow-up email and a stop by her desk where she nonchalantly responded with, “Yeah, I’ll get to it.”

Non-communicative co-workers can be incredibly common, but they’re also incredibly frustrating—particularly when he or she is responsible for a key part of your team project.

Non-communicative co-workers can be incredibly common, but they’re also incredibly frustrating.

DO THIS: When you know you’re dealing with someone who tends to avoid any sort of response, you’ll always want to make sure that you’re communicating in a way that’s clear. Ensure that all of your messages have explicit expectations and firm deadlines included.

Common courtesy allows you to follow up once after not hearing anything. But, if you still get radio silence (and this becomes a repeated problem!) it’s time to loop in your superior on the issues you’re dealing with. It’s not up to you to waste a chunk of your workday trying to keep that other person on task.

4. The Complainer

The office is too hot. His desk chair is uncomfortable. The weather is terrible. This project is too hard. His inbox is too full. The delivery place screwed up his lunch order.

It doesn’t matter what it is—this co-worker finds a way to complain about absolutely everything. You’ve become convinced that literally nothing will make him happy—Publisher’s Clearing House could show up and present him with a giant check, and he’d complain that they were celebrating too loudly.

While his constant airing of grievances isn’t necessarily causing anyone harm, they’re still distracting and downright discouraging.

DO THIS: Oftentimes, we use complaints as conversation starters with people—discussing that horrible snowstorm or how long the line is at the deli is an easy way to find some common ground. So, chances are, this unhappy co-worker might not even realize how much he’s complaining.

You can start by trying to switch conversations to more positive ground by saying something like, “Yeah, it’s a little chilly in here. But, I’d rather be here than outside in that sweltering heat, wouldn’t you?”

But, if that’s not enough to put a halt to his excessive complaints, you’ll need to be a little more forward. Try saying something along the lines of, “Yes, I know the office thermostat can be a little moody. But, unfortunately, constantly complaining about it won’t help any of us. Do you think you could tone it down just a little bit?”

5. The Shirker

This co-worker must have “delegating” as the top key skill listed on his or her resume—because she never seems to do any actual work herself. She’s the master of shirking responsibility, and is even skilled at shifting blame when the opportunity arises.

You’re growing frustrated with watching her constantly pass the buck and get away with it. But, you aren’t quite sure how to address the situation without coming off as overly aggressive and accusatory.

DO THIS: After you and your team have met about a large project or assignment, send an email to everyone involved that clearly details the role each of you will play and what you’re responsible for—and make sure to copy your boss on that email as well! Having a record of those expectations will definitely be helpful.

If your co-worker still seems to slide away from the work and avoid holding up her end of the project? Well, again, the best thing you can do is have a conversation with your manager to ensure that everyone is sharing fair responsibility.

Nobody’s perfect, and there are certain co-workers that will annoy you way more than others. Use this advice to deal with five common types of difficult colleagues, and you’re sure to unclench those fists and breathe a little easier.

What’s one of your biggest co-worker pet peeves? How do you deal?