How to Deal With an Extremely Difficult Colleague

Last Updated May 2, 2011 1:41 PM EDT

Dear Ron, I have a colleague who's really pushy and self-involved, and it really annoys me when I have to deal with him. I don't think the problems are major enough for me to get my boss involved, but I have to deal with this person a lot and it really saps a lot of my energy. What should I do?
I think you should start by looking at why this person annoys you so much and figuring out whether it's just you or a problem he has with everyone. If this person seems to relate OK to other colleagues, it may simply be a situation you have to learn to deal with. After all, in the course of your career, you'll need to work with a range of personalities, some of which may not agree so well with yours, but that you'll still have to figure out how to work effectively with.

If it's not obvious and you need to get some clearer sense of how your co-workers feel about this person, pay attention to their body language when they're interacting with them. Do they roll their eyes, or sigh, or have similar responses when talking to him? You might also suggest that they work together with this person on a new project, and see how they react, both verbally and with their body language.

Once you have some clear confirmation from your colleagues that this person's behavior is objectionable, and you supervise this person in some way, now's the time to put your manager's hat on. You should give him some direct feedback and tell him you've had a number of complaints about him and that it's become a problem. Stick to the facts as much as possible, and try to take your own personal feelings and emotions out of it. The good thing is that if this person is ambitious, he'll take this feedback and try to improve. If not, you may have an ongoing behavior problem that you'll have to forcefully address.

If you're not in a supervisory role, though, you want to make sure you're in agreement with your boss about this person's worth and value, and the detrimental effect their behavior is having on the team. You want to be clear as to exactly what problems his behavior is causing, whether it's that information is not being shared as readily as it should be, people are refusing to work with this person , etc. The key thing is that if it's something that affects your group's performance, you now have some leverage to get your boss to deal with it.

If it turns out, however, that your colleague's behavior is something that primarily bothers you and doesn't hurt the group's performance, you have to figure out ways to put it into perspective and not let it get to you. It could be that yes, this isn't the person you want to have your lunch with or hang out after work with, but if overall they seem to get things done, albeit in a different way than you, then you'll just have to learn to deal with it. You can perhaps try to minimize your personal contact by using email or instant messages more to communicate with him, or try to interact with him more in team settings where his behavior might get reined in somewhat. Either way, dealing with people you don't always see eye-to-eye with is a necessary career skill to develop. Good luck.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Zach Klein

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  • Ron Brown

    Ronald B. Brown is a leading expert in the fields of leadership development and organizational change. He is the founder and president of Banks Brown, a management consulting firm that specializes in providing leading-edge skills to optimize the performance of leaders and organizations. He has served as a consultant to Fortune 100 corporations such as the Procter & Gamble Company, Avon Products, Inc., McDonald's Corporation, General Electric Plastics, Kaiser Permanente, Shell Oil Company, Eastman Kodak Company, General Mills Inc., and Motorola, Inc. Brown holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.A. and B.S. from Michigan State University.