6 Ways to Succeed Despite Unpleasant Coworkers

“Before someone can treat you like a doormat, you have to lie down first.”— Dear Abby, American advice columnist.

Overcoming Human Obstacles
One thing we often forget about teamwork is that you don’t have to like everyone on your team to work effectively with them. It helps, but in any group, you’ll probably find someone who rubs you at least slightly the wrong way. One of humanity’s greatest strengths, however, is ability to put aside our differences to further a greater cause—whether that means building a wall 13,000 miles long or building a world-class corporation.

You’ll almost always have coworkers you simply don’t like (click to tweet). This doesn’t mean they can’t do their jobs well; we’ve all known curmudgeons who were geniuses, or smug apple-polishers who did award-winning work. Indeed, high talent and IQ don’t always translate to high emotional intelligence. What are you going to do about it?

Don’t Just Cave

I’ve read numerous articles advising readers not to take any guff from insufferable coworkers—only to then suggest “killing them with kindness,” appealing to their narcissism, or otherwise going along to get along. I won’t tell you to buckle under—unless you absolutely have to. If your supervisor gives you grief, then yes, you may have to grin and bear it to a degree. But you’re also likely to disengage, and that’s no way to reach for the pinnacle of performance.

I recommend these six simple strategies for dealing effectively with most sourpusses and troublemakers at work:

  1. Talk it out. This may be hard if you’re non-confrontational. But remember, to some people, “non-confrontational” means “doormat.” So schedule a meeting to discuss your issue. You might hammer out a compromise or discover the person doesn’t mean to be unpleasant. Sometimes stress, personal problems, or illness results in rude and snappish behavior. If you ask nicely, they may calm down and back off. Always try this first; if it fails, move on to another strategy.
  1. Avoid the troublesome. Remove yourself from the troublemaker’s environs whenever he or she appears. Go back to your desk, don your noise-reducing earphones, and get to work. That’s one key to boosting your productivity anyway. If you have to deal with this person directly, do it through email, IMs, or via shared work folders.
  1. Change your schedule. If you work in an organization that offers flexible scheduling or multiple shifts, consider changing your schedule to get away from the troublemaker. This may seem extreme, but it may be best if you can’t stand to share the same office. However, running away from a problem doesn’t always work. You may find someone just as annoying during your new work hours.
  1. Document everything. This works best for backstabbers, credit-stealers, and habitual liars. If you don’t already use a program to record how you spend your time, start tracking it. (This can also help you tweak your habits to heighten your productivity.) If you come up with an idea, write it down. Document every instance where the co-worker causes trouble. Don’t let this practice take over your life, or you’ll ruin your personal productivity, but you do want to have your ducks in a row.
  1. Seek mediation. I hesitate to mention this one, because it has overtones of schoolyard tattling, and it may worsen the problem. Despite the time-honored advice of parents worldwide, many bullies don’t back down when you face up to them, especially if you bring in an authority figure. However, if necessary, leadership may be able to rein in the troublemaker, or at least separate you.
  1. Maybe it’s you. If trouble seems to follow you everywhere you go, and you butt heads with multiple people on a regular basis, you may be the one who needs to change. You may be suited to working from home. Not all smart, talented people are built for a corporate office environment. Stop and take a good, honest look at yourself if it’s sucking your soul dry. Maybe you’re the sourpuss.

Civil Teamwork

You’re almost certainly going to be a “team player” for most of your career; so when someone rubs you the wrong way, look to one of these tips to guide you to a more enjoyable work situation. Always try Tip #1 first. If it doesn’t work, keep trying other strategies until you find one that does, whether it’s on this list or not. What other efforts have you employed?


© 2016 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored seven books, including Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (January 18, 2016). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and in 2015 was inducted into its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401 or visit her website.



  1. Kathy Turton says:

    Excellent specific strategy suggestions!
    Remember too,
    “Whatever you are willing to put up with is exactly what you will have.”
    – Political Ideology

  2. Thanks Kathy! As they say, silence implies permission!