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How to Deal With Difficult and Nosy Co-Workers

by Elise Wile, studioD

The last time you were on the phone with an important client, a nosy co-worker listened to your conversation and then shared his impression with your supervisor that you should have been more accommodating. When dealing with nosy co-workers, take a deep breath before reacting to their intrusions.

Address your colleague privately. Telling a nosy co-worker in a meeting that you wish she'd pay attention to her own notes instead of reading yours will cause her to lose face. If that happens, you'll be dealing with a co-worker who is an enemy instead of one who is a mere nuisance. A quick face-to-face conversation in a private office can often resolve a problem quickly and peacefully.

Tell your colleague exactly what behavior is bothering you. Setting limits is important, says workplace expert Lynn Taylor in "Psychology Today." If you don't set limits, problems will fester. If a nosy co-worker always finds a reason to hang out in your doorway when you're on the phone, tell him that you feel most comfortable talking on the phone in private. It's best to have this conversation sooner rather than later, before the co-worker irritates you so much that you're close to losing your temper.

Refuse to give the difficult co-worker an emotional response. Provocation is one way such people attempt to gain power over others, and if you limit your responses to respectful boundary setting, the nosy and difficult person may take her behavior elsewhere. Keeping your tone professional and sticking to the facts will help you stay professional in this sticky situation, says Taylor.

Do not take the difficult person's behavior personally. If he finds out about your recent divorce and spreads that information all over the office, consider that he's likely an indiscriminate gossip and will share any juicy tidbits that land in his lap -- no matter who he embarrasses. Psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter notes in a July 2011 "Psychology Today" article that such individuals often have unresolved personal issues or poor social skills. Remember -- his behavior is about him, not about you.

Ask yourself if you are contributing to the problem. Sometimes people who perceive other people as being difficult can themselves be challenging to get along with. If you are an overachiever or a perfectionist, you may be intolerant of other people's foibles, says Carter. Self-examination never hurts, and you might find you are better able to deal with a difficult co-worker once you realize you are holding her to a higher standard than is appropriate.


  • Remember that the difficult co-worker is human, advises Taylor, and that he has the same needs and fears as other people. Having compassion can help you communicate calmly and productively with him.

About the Author

Elise Wile has been a writer since 2003. Holding a master's degree in curriculum and Instruction, she has written training materials for three school districts. Her expertise includes mentoring, serving at-risk students and corporate training.

Photo Credits

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