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  • Writer's pictureAmy Smith

How to Deal with a Challenging Colleague?

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

When working in a team it is common to come across at least one person who can be considered 'challenging' In this article I explore what a challenging colleague is, why someone can be challenging, the impact this can have on others as well as tips on how deal with a challenging colleague.

What Makes Someone Challenging to Work With? A challenging colleague is someone with whom you work who presents difficulties or obstacles to a positive and productive working relationship. There are many different types of challenging colleagues, and the specific challenges they present can vary widely.

Some common examples of challenging colleagues include:

1. Negative or critical colleagues who are always finding fault with others or the organisation. 2. Uncooperative colleagues who are resistant to change, refuse to collaborate, or hoard information. 3. Overly competitive colleagues who prioritise their own success over the success of the team or organisation. 4. Passive-aggressive colleagues who engage in behavior that is intended to undermine or sabotage others. 5. Bullying colleagues who use intimidation or aggressive behavior to control or dominate others.

What are the Reasons for Someone Being Challenging at Work?

There can be many different reasons why someone may be challenging to work with at work. Here are some common reasons:

1. Communication style: Some people may have a communication style that comes across as aggressive, dismissive, or confrontational. This can make it difficult for others to work with them, and can create a tense or hostile working environment. 2. Personality conflicts: Sometimes, people simply have personalities that clash with one another. They may have different work styles, values, or priorities that make it hard for them to collaborate effectively. 3. Work-related stress: Work-related stress can cause people to become irritable, moody, or difficult to work with. This may be due to high workloads, tight deadlines, or other pressures. 4. Lack of trust: If someone doesn't trust their colleagues or their organisation, they may become defensive, guarded, or difficult to work with. This can be especially challenging if the lack of trust is widespread or deeply ingrained. 5. Personal issues: Personal issues, such as relationship problems, health issues, or financial stress, can spill over into the workplace and affect how someone interacts with others. In addition, people are largely shaped by the past experiences. If someone has faced difficult early experiences this can lead to maladaptive thinking styles, behavioural styles and ways of coping which may be contributing to their challenging behaviours. For example, if an individual had highly critical parents and was often belittled, they can often develop low self-esteem and can struggle to trust others. In a workplace environment they can quickly perceive others as being critical and can thus become defensive. 6. Lack of awareness or skill: Some people may be challenging to work with simply because they lack awareness of their own behavior or the impact it has on others. Others may lack the skills needed to work effectively in a team environment, such as conflict resolution or communication skills.

Understanding the reasons behind challenging behavior can help us to see that it is not something to be taken personally. Knowing the causes can also help to identify strategies for addressing the issue and improving working relationships.

The Impacts of Working with a Challenging Colleague

Working with a challenging colleague can have a significant impact on your job satisfaction, mental health, and overall well-being. Here are some of the potential impacts:

1. Decreased productivity: When working with a challenging colleague, it can be difficult to stay focused and productive. You may spend more time dealing with conflicts or managing difficult situations, which can take away from your ability to get work done. 2. Increased stress and anxiety: The stress and anxiety of working with a challenging colleague can be significant. You may feel like you're constantly on edge or walking on eggshells, which can lead to feelings of tension and anxiety. 3. Negative impact on mental health: Over time, the stress and frustration of working with a challenging colleague can take a toll on your mental health. You may experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, or burnout. 4. Strained working relationships: Working with a challenging colleague can strain relationships with other colleagues, as well. If the challenging colleague is difficult to work with, it can make it harder for the team to collaborate effectively. 5. Decreased job satisfaction: When work is stressful and challenging, it can be hard to feel satisfied with your job. You may begin to question whether you're in the right role or whether you want to stay with the organization.

How to Deal with a Challenging Colleague? As outlined above, working with a challenging colleague can be difficult, but there are several key strategies that can be employed to help manage the situation. Here are some important things to keep in mind:

1. Identify the specific challenges: Before you can effectively address the situation, it's important to understand exactly what the issues are. Take some time to identify the specific behaviors or attitudes that are making it difficult to work with your colleague. 2. Stay calm and professional: When dealing with a challenging colleague, it's important to remain calm and professional. Don't let their behavior or attitude get under your skin, and avoid getting into arguments or confrontations. 3. Communicate clearly: Communication is key when working with a difficult colleague. Be clear and concise in your communication, and make sure you are expressing your needs and concerns in a non-confrontational way. 4. Find common ground: Look for areas of common ground with your colleague, and focus on those. This can help to build a better working relationship and reduce tension. 5. Seek support: If the situation becomes too difficult to manage on your own, don't be afraid to seek support from others. Talk to your manager or HR representative, or consider working with a mediator or coach to help you navigate the situation. 6. Set boundaries: If the behavior of your colleague is causing you significant stress or anxiety, it may be necessary to set some boundaries. This could involve limiting your interactions with them or requesting a different working arrangement. 7. Practice self-care: Finally, it's important to take care of yourself when dealing with a challenging colleague. Make sure you are taking breaks when you need them, seeking support from friends and family, and engaging in activities that help you to manage stress and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Dealing with a challenging colleague can be stressful and draining, and it's important to have strategies in place to manage the situation and protect your own well-being.

If you would like psychological support to help you navigate working with a challenging colleague and managing the impact it is having upon you feel free to reach out for some support, please contact me via email: or kindly complete the webform.

Challenging colleague at work

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