Tips For How To Work With Difficult Co-Workers

Leah Davis
6 min readFeb 7, 2021

We’ve all dealt with at least one of these people:

  • You are trying hard to help achieve a goal and they’re disengaged from the team.
  • A project requires everyone to work together and they aren’t trustworthy to do their part.
  • Someone who seems to cause drama wherever they go.

These people are everywhere. We can be their friend or initiate small talk when we run into them at the bank. Simply being around these people can be hard enough. Working with them can be ten times harder.

People don’t change when they are told their flaws. Bettering yourself is an action you have to take. Before you go calling out someone’s issues, they have to respect you and have a desire to improve. If they don’t have either, action will certainly not be taken. How do you work with someone who is difficult whether they know about it or not? Whether they are working on improving or not?

Every situation is different but there are key actions that can be taken to improve the situation.

They aren’t motivated

In 2018, I went on a mission trip to Texas with my youth group. We spent a week helping a neighborhood recover from Hurricane Harvey. What happened to them was tragic. They had suddenly lost their homes and livelihoods. They paid a contractor who had offered to build them new homes. After building the framework, he took their money and abandoned them. TEAMeffort heard about this and took action.

We were one of the many groups that volunteered to go down and assist with finishing the houses. There was a lot to do and I got right to work. The majority of the people there felt this way.

There were a couple of people who were physically able to help but chose to sit around for most of the time. They didn’t carry their weight or even look like they wanted to try.

How do you work with people like that? On this trip, I chose one of the more popular ways.

I Ignored them.

This works pretty well if you don’t want someone to bring down your motivation. This works if you have enough people that their help isn’t necessary. This is definitely not a great way to work with them. Why? You aren’t working with them at all!

The best way to go about a situation like this is to clearly lay out what is desired from the person. You need to layout your expectations. Remind the person why they need to put these tasks in high priority. Casually tell them how this will positively affect them and others.

As humans, we love when positive goals are achieved. The route to get there is where we go south. When a person knows what steps need to be taken, they are more likely to take them.

They aren’t responsible

I’ve gone to 5-day club training for three years now. This training is a branch of Child Evangelism Fellowship. It is a two-week intensive training where I learned and memorized the curriculum that we would teach children. In this, I had to work closely with many different kinds of people. I would have to form trust with people I had never worked with previously. It was especially difficult when someone would not be worthy of that trust.

I remember being a team leader to some teens who were new to the program. I relied on them to get their work done so that I could pass them as 5-day club teachers. One teen, in particular, tested that trust more than once.

He’d push his work off until the last minute then be “ready to test” after reading through the story twice. He caused me a lot of stress. His storytelling would be great but he just didn’t know the story!

After observing him, I figured out that he simply wasn’t responsible. My goal was to figure out what would motivate him to do his part for the team responsibly.

I started giving him hard deadlines and requirements for what I needed from him. He had to have read through the story 5 times before lunch. If he wanted to do a certain fun activity, he had to pass his practicum first. This may sound like giving boundaries to a child but the same rules apply for someone who isn’t responsible.

You need to give them a push of some kind. You don’t have to be over their shoulder and hold their hand through every task. Everyone who is irresponsible has the ability to be responsible. Give them the time crunch and lay the pressure on them. Tell them how urgent this project is and why it needs to be done. Help them to understand what is at stake and what this project will improve. I remember someone telling me this once and I believe it truly does apply to situations like this. If a truck is hurtling towards someone, they won’t run until they see it coming.

They cause tension

In the fall, I’ve worked for a local apple orchard. They have turned into an agricultural tourist place bursting to the seams with customers. I’ve worked at many different elements of this business, the most notable one being one of the food venues that serve ice cream sundaes and cookies. Yes, it always smelled amazing.

I worked with the majority of the same people whenever I was there. They all did their part to make our venue run smoothly. They all did the work, but there was a problem.

The tension was high.

Everyone acts differently under pressure but one girl was especially rough. Her tone was commonly degrading and she asked busy people to do something she could do herself. It was frustrating. Whenever she’d leave, everyone sighed with relief. After a long day, I was always burnt out. Not just because of the work, but with how this girl brought our team down.

For the longest time, I just hoped it would get better on its own. Long day after long day and it wasn’t getting better. Finally, the rest of the team stopped taking what she said personally. You have to identify the person’s intentions. Do they mean to be rude or are they just having a rough day? Is pressure just hard for them to handle?

We figured out that she had a harder time in stressful situations. We stopped taking her rudeness personally and to know our boundaries when she wanted us to do something for her. Some people are just going to be hard. Not letting it affect you and giving yourself boundaries can help you to work with that person. Don’t let them stress you out. Allowing a person to get to you is what will guarantee your team’s dysfunction.

So, what are some of the biggest takeaways from all of this? What is a good practice when it comes to working with people? Whether they are difficult or not?

Always layout your expectations. When people know what is expected of them, they will have a better understanding of how to accomplish those things.

Make boundaries for yourself. There is such a thing as trying too hard and giving too much. Test your boundaries and identify them. Help others but don’t lose yourself in the process. Don’t carry someone else’s burden. Help them carry it by being there for them. Listen to them and be their friend. Many people don’t understand the difference. When you have clear boundaries, you and your relationships (both professional and personal) will improve.

People can be difficult. Working with some of them isn’t something you can avoid. Take every challenge on with a smile. Life is too short to let someone push your buttons. Whoever invented those button caps was a genius.

Originally published at on February 7, 2021.