workplace bullying

Handling Difficult Coworkers

They are present in every workplace, from the complainer to the distracting chatterbox, from the gossiper to the bully. But you must learn how to handle difficult coworkers. Leaving an annoying or bad situation to simmer can only cause further escalation and lack of productivity. Eventually, you’ll come to work miserable every day. Here’s how to deal with difficult people in your workplace.

Dealing with Coworkers

When Realizing There’s a Problem

Determine that the source of your irritation or discomfort is really another person, and if it’s that person. Is it actually something at home or in your work that you are taking out on another person’s behavior? If so, then you may need to simply ignore that coworker’s quirks or behavior while you work out what else is bothering you.

Is it actually your coworker’s behavior? Then you need to address it. Move towards fixing the situation early on. Doing so will help keep your emotional state from escalating. Difficult situations left alone may explode later, especially in the middle of a project or a deadline.

You can talk it out with a trusted friend or coworker–anyone who can be a helpful but neutral third party. This lets you explore options in an objective, rational way. Don’t just leave it at complaining or whining, especially to someone who can’t do anything about it or who wants you to do something about it. You’ll quickly become the office complainer, and your situation will likely get worse.

Tips for Speaking to Them

If your coworker’s actions prevent you from getting work done, you will need to address these issues. However, you’ll have to do it wisely so you don’t escalate your situation.

Note that you’ll have to do this in person. You can’t just leave an anonymous letter. This won’t be productive. You also can’t be passive-aggressive like leaving deodorant or body spray on a coworker’s desk as a way to inform them that their hygiene bothers you. This creates extra conflict and will make your overall problem harder to resolve.

First, take the emotion out of speaking to them. Emotion on your part may fluster you or make you say things you’ll regret. Or, just having excess and uncontrolled emotion could escalate the confrontation and make a bad situation worse.

Rehearse what you can say. Not just what you want to say, but how you can and should say it. Rehearsing will also help you stay in control of your discussion.

Use “I” language while talking. Avoid using the word “you” as much as possible, as this can feel attacking or overly defensive. The other person may not know that their behavior is affecting you so much.

Fixing the Problem

Once you’ve begun your discussion, you’ll have to address ways to fix the situation. Set boundaries for what behavior that person can use with you and what makes you uncomfortable. Focus only on the one or two worst behaviors that impact you the most. As you talk, try to come up with positive solutions together. That way, you’re not just berating and complaining at them, but showing that you want to find a solution and keep the work relationship a positive one.

Remember to be friendly and encouraging throughout. Sometimes factors like jealousy, their own personal problems, and others can affect their behavior. You’re not trying to bully them into giving you space or your way; that will also make things worse!

Didn’t Work?

Sadly, some people just don’t care. They may refuse to recognize that they have a problem, consider themselves incapable of change, or decide that you’re too negative/whiny/sensitive. If you run into one of these people, you may need to limit the time you are with them. This might require the intervention of a manager if you sit near them or must work alongside them on a project.

If the problem continues, discuss it with HR or your management.


If you work with a bully, not just an annoying person, you may need to go to HR. This is especially true if you regularly feel intimidated, dread going near that coworker, or if you almost can’t bring yourself to come to work.

This kind of conflict resolution can make your franchise better for all involved! Remember to catch these problems early, and you’ll be fine.

Bullying in the Workplace

Bullying is aggressive behavior that repeats itself or has a high likelihood of doing so. It also always has a power imbalance, which may be physical and/or social. Mostly, we think of this happening to our children and teenagers, rather than as adults. However, it can be just as serious in adulthood as in childhood, and often manifests in the workplace. Since we spend so many hours of our day at work, this can be deeply debilitating, and affect more than just the victim of the bullying. In fact, it can affect your business.

Workplace bullying, unfortunately, is not illegal. The following behaviors are still offenses worthy of termination depending on your business, but cannot be held to legal action:

  • Teasing
  • Pranks
  • Threats
  • Humiliation
  • Intimidation
  • Interference with work (i.e. sabotage, refusal to cooperate with target)

It does, however, become illegal when it becomes assault, threat of physical violence, stalking, or harassment. Laws prevent workplace harassment based on characteristics like race, nationality, gender, religion, age, and disability. In the workplace, these are deeply serious issues, so it’s important to stop bullying before it gets this far.

Emotional Bullying

Among adults and especially women, this is the most common form of bullying. It leads to hostility in the workplace and may make employees dread coming in. Plus, this can affect how work gets done within a team or even at all.

Emotional or social bullying includes:

  • Exclusion
  • Refusal to help
  • Silent treatment
  • Badmouthing

These behaviors can stop progress in the office, or create bad relationships with brand new employees. In a work environment, emotional bullying can be more terrible than managers might think. It’s this kind of bullying that can severely impact someone’s performance, or even cause them to leave.

Physical Bullying

While this is not as common, physical bullying does take place. It may be subtle and easy to pass off as an accident (slamming someone with a door, or tripping them), or deliberate like stalking or unwanted touching. Adults may lean toward the former, being more aware than children that there is a line between bullying and assault. However, if an employee continues to have accidents, it’s time to investigate. It could be bullying, and not just clumsiness.

How it Affects You

Depending on the issues, you may be inclined to let the incidents pass or to do only the minimum. It can be difficult to police adults and their behavior. However, if you can take control of the situation, do so! According to Entrepreneur, 20% of respondents in an emotional bullying survey said that dealing with bullies cost them seven or more hours per week. Seven hours a week can total thousands of dollars per employee per year. And it’s not usually just one person; bullies disrupt at least 5 people, and more if they are a manager.

Your business and your franchisees’ businesses depend on handling bad behavior, regardless of other work performance. Establish from the start rules regarding workplace bullying, and let all offenders know the next step if they repeat their behavior.


While franchisors won’t be able to and shouldn’t monitor the behavior of all employees, you can make it clear what the standards in your company are. From your corporate level, you can provide the guidelines on how to combat bullying in the workplace. Keep your company healthy from the start: root out bullying before it can grow and poison your business.