How to collaborate with a difficult colleague

Mar 08, 2020

Some people just don’t work well with others. Orla Brosnan explains how you can still deliver a successful project on time while working with a difficult colleague.

One of the most important hiring criteria is the ability to work as a team player. A department or team that works well together has the most success, yet so many of us have colleagues who don’t work well with others. Here are some tips on how you can work together with a difficult colleague.

Set an expectation of collaboration

Management must assess the staff’s contribution to teamwork as part of the annual performance review process. If that is not set out from the very beginning and consistently followed through, it will not be seen as a priority.

Spend some time away from the office

A difficult employee who refuses to be a team player can derail a project. This can be an expensive mistake, and it has the potential to harm the company's reputation and cost the business clients. It may be that they don't have the aptitude or don't have the training necessary to do a great job. When colleagues don't get along or don't work well together, it simply might be that they don't really know each other well.  The best way to get to know a colleague that you have difficulty working with is to spend some time with them away from the office. Offer to take them out to lunch or meet for a drink after work to develop a rapport; this will make working together more pleasant and productive.

Outline responsibilities

A manager should always be really clear about what the person should be doing, the quality of the work that should be delivered and the time in which that should happen. Issue clear, step-by-step directives to your difficult employee. Put these directives in writing and go through them with the team member. If there are personality conflicts within the group, address the difficult employee and their colleagues to sort out the differences swiftly.

Assign independent tasks

Sometimes, independent tasks are better for difficult employees than group projects if deadlines aren't being met or if the difficult person is not completing tasks that are necessary for others in the group to move the project forward. Document every interaction with the difficult employee to create a record of how the issue is being handled.

When you enjoy working with your colleagues and look forward to interacting with them, everyone benefits. Morale is high, which leads to better productivity and results, and a much more pleasant work environment for everyone.

Orla Brosnan is the Founder of The Etiquette School of Ireland and Professional Training Centre.