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How to Cope With a Disrespectful Coworker

by Tamara Runzel

No matter how polite you are, at some point in your career you’re likely to run into a disrespectful co-worker, making your job frustrating and difficult. Stress from co-worker incivility can even potentially spill over into your relationships at home and cause problems there, according to the 2011 article by Meredith Ferguson, "You Cannot Leave it at the Office: Spillover and Crossover of Co-worker Incivility," in the Journal of Organizational Behavior. Depending on the situation, taking the direct approach or simply avoiding the person may be called for.

Examine the Situation

Look at the situation and consider what exactly bothers you about your co-worker. It’s important to evaluate your actions and attitude to ensure you’re not contributing to the situation or overreacting. Think about how long your colleague has shown you disrespect. If it has happened only recently, it might be a result of changes on the job or stresses from outside of work. Give it time and see if the situation improves. If possible, avoid the co-worker as much as possible. The less you deal with this person, the less chance you will be the target of the disrespectful attitude. Despite your co-worker's attitude or actions, maintain a respectful attitude in all circumstances.

Talk With Others

Ask a colleague, friend or family member for their perspective on the situation. Whomever you talk to should be removed from the situation so they can provide a clear point of view of the co-worker's actions. Ask the person to help brainstorm some possible solutions to deal with the disrespect. If you talk to a colleague, explain the situation in a professional matter so it doesn’t look like you are trying to start gossip.

Talk With the Co-worker

Set up a meeting in a neutral location with the disrespectful co-worker. Plan what you will say beforehand. Keep an assertive, but respectful, approach during the meeting. Explain to your co-worker how her attitude makes you feel. Point out a few specific examples to help her understand your feelings. Avoid pointing out her mistakes or trying to place any blame on her. Ask open-ended questions to engage her and help you reach a solution together, such as, “How can we work together better?” or “What can I do to improve our working relationship?” Try to reach a solution before ending the meeting and plan to meet again in the future to track your progress.

Talk With a Manager

If you’re unable to reach a solution with your co-worker and the disrespectful attitude affects your work environment and production, meet with a manager or supervisor. Explain the situation clearly to your manager--with examples if applicable--and avoid showing negativity or becoming defensive. Talking to your manager or human resources also means your interactions are documented in case the situation escalates.

About the Author

Tamara Runzel has been writing military, parenting, family and relationship articles since 2008. Runzel started in television news, followed by education before deciding to be a stay at home mom. Her articles have appeared in military publications as well as numerous online publications. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication from University of the Pacific.

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