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4 Types of Difficult Coworkers and How to Deal With Them

The author has experienced difficult coworkers in a variety of work environments and knows the best tips and tricks for dealing with them.

Learn how to deal with the four most challenging coworker personality types.

Learn how to deal with the four most challenging coworker personality types.

How to Deal With Grumpy, Know-It-All, Tattletale, and Lazy Coworkers

If you have a job, chances are that you've come across at least one person who is difficult to work with. In fact, most of us, over the course of our careers, will have encountered many of these difficult coworker types. I sure have! While working with difficult coworkers can be stressful and really take the fun out of our days, it's important to remember that dealing with these challenging personalities is, unfortunately, part of having a job. That is unless you work for yourself, but that's a whole different story.

Read on because I am going to identify four types of difficult coworkers and ways you can deal with them.

1. The Grumpy Coworker

You know the type—they walk into work in the morning, don't say hi, and won't even make eye contact with you or crack a smile. While we do not all have to be best friends at work, it is pretty awkward when you can't interact with these people the way you would with a normal person who will at least say hello. What to do:

  • Try to find some common ground: There's got to be something—anything—that you have in common with this person, and if you're able to find it, you just might be able to crack them. Maybe you and she have the same favorite TV show—you could ask her what she thought of last night's episode! Maybe you both have kids starting school this year—ask how that's working out. The point is to find something to get that person talking so she feels like you're both on the same side. She still might not say hello to you in the morning, but you might get a glimmer of a smile every once in a while that can lighten the tension.
  • Ask if something's wrong: When people are grumpy to the extreme, there is usually something wrong on a personal level. If you're not afraid to have your head bitten off, ask if something is indeed wrong and if there's anything you can do to help (only if you mean it). This might be a brave approach depending on who you're dealing with but can once again help open the lines of communication and might lead to a smile down the road. Maybe the person just needs to feel like she has an ally.
  • Don't take it personally: Chances are that if you find this coworker cranky and difficult to work around, you're not alone. Realize that some people are just like that no matter what you do and try not to let it bring you down.
Know-it-all coworkers feel that their way is the only one way to do things.

Know-it-all coworkers feel that their way is the only one way to do things.

2. The Know-It-All Coworker

Nobody knows everything, but don't tell your know-it-all coworker that! What's tricky about these people is that they're hard to reason with because they carry on as if the only ideas that are "right" or "the best way" are their own. It's especially difficult when this type of coworker is your supervisor who gets to call some of the shots that affect the quality of your job and your day. What if you come up with a better way of doing something that could benefit your whole department? Maybe what's been done for years isn't really the best way, and in order for things to change, you have to convince this person. Here's what to do:

  • Make them think that your idea is really their idea: No, you're not gonna get credit if you take this approach, but if you can get past that and are just looking for end results, this method works pretty well. You might say something like, "Remember your ABC idea? (which is actually YOUR idea) I think that will work well for us because of XYZ." You'll probably only want to try this for ideas that are only slightly different from theirs and not a paradigm shift; otherwise, your know-it-all coworker could catch on (but you might be surprised—people who think they know everything and are unwilling to budge are often not that sharp).
  • Show your evidence. Prove it: Even the most knowing of all know-it-all coworkers may find it hard to hold onto their ideas if you can provide all kinds of evidence to show that another idea or another way may be better. Tread lightly on this one and make sure that your battle is worth it.

3. The Tattletale Coworker

Lo and behold, you're called into your manager's office because you were tattled on by your tattletale coworker for something that doesn't really matter anyway. Tattletale coworkers are really like spies because they are very good at slyly discovering every little tiny mistake you have ever made at work and then going and telling on you, thus making them look good and you look bad. Is there anything you can do? Yes:

  • Make sure they like you: It might make you sick to your stomach to try to be work friends with this person, but if you can do it, it is in your best interest. This is especially true if you have to work closely with the person and know that she will always be "watching you." There's a chance that if this person feels a friendly vibe between the two of you, she might move onto another target who hasn't made that effort to be friends. Since nobody likes a tattle, they don't usually have many friends. Use this to your advantage.
  • Be on your best behavior: Sure, if you know the tattletale is sniffing around, just carry out your work according to the books and to the highest code. If you do everything absolutely perfectly, there won't be anything to tell on.
  • Avoid, avoid, avoid: If you really don't have to associate with this person, don't. It's as simple as that.
Do you have one of these at your workplace?

Do you have one of these at your workplace?

4. The Lazy Coworker

There is nothing more frustrating than doing all the work while your lazy coworker(s) sits around and does nothing. Ideally, someone in charge will see the light, and your lazy coworker friends will eventually get fired, but we all know that it's nearly impossible to fire someone these days, so don't count on it. Instead, you might try the following:

  • Suck it up: Yes, you work, and your lazy coworkers don't, but one approach is just to acknowledge that fact and move on. In other words, as they say, "do your work and go home."
  • Don't pick up the slack for the lazy one: You might find yourself taking on extra duties that were initially meant for your lazy coworker without even realizing it. Stop doing that! Once the workload starts to pile up and you resist the urge to dive in and finish it off, even your coworker may take notice of the backlog and pitch in to help. And if they don't, say . . .
  • "Help me! I'm overwhelmed! There is work to be done here!": Sadly, you might have to spell it out to your lazy coworker just like that. Lazy coworkers are not all bad people, but sometimes they are oblivious to the fact that there is work to be done, so you really just might have to tell them.

Well, there you have it. Hopefully, you can go to work tomorrow with a few new ideas on how to deal with those difficult coworkers that are always going to be there. Please comment below and let me know what's worked for you in the workplace!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Reena Dhiman on September 25, 2014:

I really enjoy while reading this hub. During my last company, I had some colleagues who always wanted to be in a limelight. I really had a tough time.

But anyways, superb writing.

drdspervez from Pakistan on July 29, 2013:

It's a great hub and I have the experience of working with lazy co-workers, I know it's very difficult to work with lazy co-workers because sometimes you feel like working it all by yourself instead of asking them to do like this.

Dr. Durreshahwar Pervez

RavenBiker from Pittsburgh, PA. on August 17, 2011:

Nice remarks about difficult co-workers. I had a tattletale co-worker that insisted of miss interpreting and misconstruing everything that I ever said because she enjoyed being the victim.

One other co-worker I've worked with that you didn't mention is what I call the Gestapo Co-worker who reports every little misfire, every little quark and every "that activity is not company policy" to the boss. In fact, she insisted in participating in developing office rules and policies.

Like all bad things, nasty co-workers never last. Thanks for the hub!

Laughingcowcheese on January 21, 2011:

Wow! Have you been spying on some of my co-workers/supervisors? I wonder why it is that the...and I'll try not to be too harsh here...brown-nosing, back-stabbing, hope-killing, lie-flinging folks manage to work their way up the ladder, and the hard-working, dependable-but-invisible, worker-bees are left in the dust to carry the load? Please let's all pray the economy gets better so worker-bees have some open doors of opportunity! :)

Lisa Knox-Brown from Trinidad on January 19, 2011:

I really enjoyed reading your true. In my last job there was one person who was a tattletale and a know-it-all - one is bad enough...after 5 months of joining the company the person was history as it caused so much discord!

Oh, and the brown-noser back stabber was their best friend!!!

ponygirl58 on January 18, 2011:

I have a lazy AND know-it-all co worker. She is lazy as a slug on a chilly day until she feels a need to impress people, then she knows everything there is to know about the job. She carries a gun(she's a cop) so popping her upside the head is out of the question--but a nice fantasy.

Jackie Paulson from USA IL on November 29, 2010:

Great hub, I know how hard it is to work with Know it alls. LOL Too real for comfort. Great hub.

MRWED on October 12, 2010:

I am having fun reading your hub. I had a lazy co worker and a “know it all” colleague. To the lazy one, I told my principal about her, not to brag myself but help my co teacher. And to the “ know it all’ co worker, I always find ways how to interrupt her and prove her that she is wrong later on she is not telling anything to me. Sounds funny but true. Thanks to this hub.

Grace Marguerite Williams from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on October 10, 2010:

Yes, I have worked with lazy coworkers. However, I solved this problem by going to the head administrator of my section. She severely chastised the supervisor in charge and wrote her up. The head administrator informed the supervisor that everyone gets paid to work and they should either work or face termination charges.

PurpleOne (author) from Canada on September 15, 2010:

Shona Venter - I would love to be able to work for myself. In the end, I might not really like it either, but would love to have the option!

PurpleOne (author) from Canada on September 15, 2010:

Shona Venter - I would love to be able to work for myself. In the end, I might not really like it either, but would love to have the option!

Shona Venter from South Africa on September 15, 2010:

Sadly, these varieties of coworkers seem to lurk wherever a person goes. The only way to avoid them is to work for yourself, thus managing to avoid as much office politics as possible.

If all else fails, lighter fluid in communal ashtrays, or salt in the sugar dispenser in the office normally works quite well....

PurpleOne (author) from Canada on August 12, 2010:

clotilde - oh dear, I need a whole new category for that one!

clotilde on August 11, 2010:

what about the backstabber brown-noser???

PurpleOne (author) from Canada on August 08, 2010:

Shepherd's Lamb - That's a tricky one! Is there someone else you can ask your questions to instead of this difficult coworker? If not, ask your difficult coworker "is it okay if I ask you a question or _____?" (fill in the blank with a."are you too busy" b."would you prefer that I don't" c."should I go ask someone else"). The point here is to put a bit of sarcasm in there but just a hint of it, just enough that your coworker might see where you're coming from but can't quite tell if you're being sarcastic or not. If you can do this in front of a few other coworkers, it might be more effective to sort of embarrass him/her! Good luck!

Shepherd's Lamb from Roseville, CA on June 27, 2010:

What do you do with a 'know-it-all' co-worker that puts you down whenever you ask a question? Then, to find out that person is sharing that opinion of you with others (they don't 'name names')? I try to avoid asking questions of this person, but because of the "chain of command" I have to endure being put down and not make an issue about it with my Manager (I don't want to draw more attention to myself as a 'problem'). ??