We all must collaborate with difficult people at times. Not everyone at work can be your friend. However, you need to collaborate with others to meet your goals. When someone else is difficult to work with this can be very trying, difficult, and frustrating. This article looks at the impacts, discusses alternatives and gives you ideas that you can try to make the situation as productive and tenable as possible. Successful people have been in this situation too and made the best of trying times. Learn from them and enhance your own probability for success in the future. They did it. So can you.




It’s not about me.

It is about we.

But it starts with me.

This simple commentary is one of my Power Point slides when I speak on How to Make Uncomfortable Situations Comfortable. It is so true. In this instance

I am encouraging you to be the grown up in the room and ask you to take the first step.

To collaborate with a difficult party someone must step up to make this situation work. As a leader step up. Think of this as an opportunity and approach the situation as you would any other tough problem.


All to often there is a focus on blame. You may blame the other party, or you may have self-doubt and blame yourself. Either way you need to move away from blame and focus on the problem. What is the problem you are trying to solve and what is your goal?

 When you digress about what you do not like about the other party, this benefits no one, and takes energy from you.

When you give into blame what happens? You spend more time there and productivity goes down. You become more tense. You tend to be more defensive. A high conflict employee can drain the energy out of you and your team.


Sometimes avoiding interactions is beneficial, but

if you must work together this will still require interactions.

Being passive aggressive makes things worse. For example, not inviting the other party to a meeting, or not including the other party at key decision points will only exacerbate the issue. Similarly with other forms of communications such as texts, emails, or conference call be conscious of what will help de-escalate the situation and promote collaboration.

Avoid hate

Do not focus on what you do not like about the other party. Do not hate. You do not know what is going on their life and what other stressors or other activities may negatively impacting them.

Instead, it starts with me. What can you do?



Step aside

If you are involved with a conversation and it starts to head in a negative direction,

consider politely removing yourself.

The same can be said for unproductive conversations. Have an excuse to leave the situation to work on something or do something else.

Confront the situation professionally

When there are issues, you can confront the other person respectfully in private. Understand where they are coming from. Try to connect with the other party. Listen to them. Ask open ended questions.

Try to refrain from judging the other person. This is hard.

You must concentrate on not judging. Give yourself positive reinforcing commentary to stay focused, peaceful, and positive. Doing this earlier rather than later can hopefully keep the problem from becoming an even greater problem later.

Positive actions

Consider setting boundaries about when, where, and how conversations or updates may take place. You each are entitled to your space. Be respectful of their space and explore yours to take care of yourself.

Focus on what the other party brings to the collaboration.

 Why are you working together? What do you bring to the collaboration? What are your strengths? Are there things you can do for them? Consider your network, people, resources, and other elements where you may be able to help the other party. Keep in mind that these elements may even be beyond your collaboration activity and be outside of work.

Can you provide an affirmation such as a positive, meaningful, feedback along the way or after completing the task you are working on together. This can be a positive incentive from the beginning.

Evaluate alternatives

Realizing that these

alternatives all require an action on your part

 you may not want to take these initiatives. However, think about the pros and cons of not doing anything versus being initiative-taking to address these items from both your and the other party’s perspective. Once you do that it is more likely than not that one of more of these alternatives is at least worth a try.


What do successful people do?


Successful people find ways to work with others that may rub them the wrong way. They realize that everyone has their own personality and sometimes personalities just do not jell with one another. On the other hand, successful people look at themselves, the other party, and the situation and then

they find a way to make it work.

That is how they got to be successful. Learn from them, network, do some research, and explore the ideas presented here so that you can be successful too.

Keep in mind that your emotions are likely high as you consider the other party. Explore your emotions and why you feel the way you do. Then reflect on what you have read here and see if some of the ideas presented here may be worth a try. Keep in mind that as with all things, making changes requires practice, persistence, and patience. Do not give up after the first try if it is not successful. Keep in mind that you and the other party may each have some baggage to overcome. This may take some time on both of your parts.

For more on this topic take a look at Lisa Stephenson’s article on How to Work with Someone You Really Don’t Like and check out my blog under the heading of with the difficult people  for a host of other related topics that you may find helpful.


About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.com and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]