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How Do You Deal With Difficult Coworkers?

Interviewers will likely ask about how you deal with difficult coworkers. Your answer can make or break your chances of being hired. So, keep reading for our expert tips on what you should say!

Variations of this interview question

  • Tell me about a time you had to work with someone who was hard to get along with.
  • Have you ever had to work with someone you didn’t like?
  • How do you handle working with coworkers that are difficult?

Why do interviewers ask about working with people you didn’t like?

In a perfect world, coworkers would exist in total harmony, never disagreeing or getting on each other’s nerves. In reality, some coworkers are stubborn or opinionated. Others chew with their mouth open or play annoying music without headphones. Sometimes, two people are like oil and water and just don’t mix well. 

Working with people you wouldn’t choose as friends is inevitable, so it makes sense that interviewers would want to be proactive in asking how you deal with it. Being able to work with challenging colleagues is a universal skill among top candidates. It can also be an indicator of how easy you are to get along with–whether you’re prone to petty disputes or choose to keep things professional while you’re at work. 

An interviewer wants to understand how you manage frustration. They want to be assured that you have healthy strategies for resolving interpersonal conflicts and won’t be bogging your manager down with every little complaint. 

What the interviewer is looking for in an answer about difficult coworkers

Employees who are rude, headstrong, or arrogant are hard to manage and bring down the morale of the whole team. A hiring manager wants to uncover these undesirable qualities before hiring, and your answer to a question about working with people you don’t get along with can be revealing. 

An interviewer wants to hear that you’ll bring positivity and level-headedness to the team rather than drama. They also want to know if you’ll be able to handle difficult people who aren’t on the company’s payroll, like customers and key vendors. 

How to answer the question, “How do you deal with difficult coworkers

Be honest

A good hiring manager understands that some people just don’t see eye to eye. They don’t expect you to say that you get along with everyone. The key is being able to deal with people you disagree with in a way that enables you to still work together productively. So, be honest about a time you had to deal with a coworker that irked you. 

Give a specific example

Because they, unfortunately, won’t have the chance to work with you until they hire you, telling a real story helps a hiring manager get a chance to “see” you in action and imagine what it would be like to have you on their team. Pick a story that makes them say, “wow, that’s someone I’d want to work with!”

Be action-oriented

In telling your story, touch briefly on the disagreement, then spend the majority of the time explaining the steps you took to be proactive about finding a resolution. 

Emphasize your positive qualities

Use your response as a chance to play up your strengths; for example, “I had a coworker who was constantly waiting until the last minute to finish tasks. This really bothered me because getting my work done in a timely manner is so important to me.”

How not to answer

Be vague

Generic answers like “I ignore them” or “I don’t let them bother me” do little to tell the interviewer how you manage interpersonal conflict. 

Do too much venting

Though it feels so good to air your gripes about that annoying coworker who does every last thing to grind your gears, don’t let your answer turn into a complaint session.

Sample answers to “How do you deal with difficult coworkers”

Example #1

“I shared an office with a guy named Dave, and we couldn’t be more opposite. When we first started to work together, we would clash over everything, especially topics we were passionate about. After one particularly heated exchange, I knew I had to take action to prevent our disagreements from affecting our work. I took Dave aside and laid it out bluntly: we may not like each other, but if we want to keep our jobs, we have to stop arguing. We agreed to avoid topics that were triggers for our disagreements completely–politics, religion, and sports were big ones–and to keep our interactions focused on work. Things got much easier after that. Believe it or not, Dave and I are still office mates. We still avoid certain topics, but now we can laugh about how different we are.”

Example #2

“If there’s someone I don’t get along with at work, it’s usually because we have different work styles. I’m a big communicator, so if someone uses one-word answers or takes days to respond to an email, I can become frustrated. I’ve learned that the best strategy to prevent this frustration is to clearly express my expectations and be direct about what I need. For example, if I need an urgent answer to a question, I’ll end a message by saying, ‘please let me know by tomorrow if you would like to move forward with option X or option Y.’ Some people may say I’m blunt, but they will never say I’m careless or lazy!”

Choose a story with a positive outcome, as shown in the example answers above. Above all else, focus on how you’re respectful to colleagues and don’t let your differences of opinion get in the way of your work. Ultimately, that’s what’s important to a manager.
Be on the lookout for similar conflict-resolution questions like ‘how do you handle conflict in the workplace?’ and ‘how would you deal with an angry customer?’