How to Deal with Difficult Coworkers

Use these helpful techniques for building bridges in challenging times.

One technique to deal with difficult coworkers is not taking their behavior personally.

You’re busy navigating the latest patient software update, working a double shift, helping a family understand a serious health concern – and then you hit interference with a coworker. Whether you’ve bumped heads with a physician, administrator, or fellow nurse, there are ways you can reduce tension and frustration on the job. To build bridges during challenging times, try these techniques:

  • Try not to take it personally
  • Document your interactions
  • Set boundaries
  • Use empathy
  • Seek help

Keep reading to learn more about each of these techniques to deal with difficult coworkers in a clinical setting.


The way a difficult coworker responds to you can often reflect an inner conflict they’re having, illness, or lack of sleep – it may not have anything to do with what you’ve said or done. Try not to take their challenging behavior personally. When your coworker reacts strongly, recognize that there may be something else going on that’s completely unrelated to the situation at hand.


Take careful notes on troublesome comments or actions between you and your colleague. This type of documentation will help others investigate a solution if the situation escalates. You can also use your notes during a discussion with your coworker who may not realize the impact their actions have on you. 


If you are experiencing a strained work relationship, set boundaries with your coworker. Let them know you respect their position and request the same in return. In particularly tense situations, tell them you need to remove yourself until you’re both feeling calm and ready to find a mutually beneficial solution away from patients, families, and others. 


The empathy you exercise with your patients can also come in handy during difficult situations with coworkers. Listening to your colleague and putting yourself in their shoes may lend the perspective you need to find common ground. Check out these tools to help you use empathy effectively at work. 


Lastly, seek help if you find the challenging situation with your coworker is taking a toll on patient care or your personal well-being. Consider finding a mediator, or someone who is unbiased and skilled in conflict resolution strategies in the workplace, or reach out to your direct supervisor or higher authority for help. 

When you’re in a tense encounter with a coworker, remember to take care of you – starting with a deep breath. Although you can’t control the outcome of the situation, you can manage your response. By practicing these self-care ideas for nurses and dealing with difficult coworkers using the tips above, you’ll be prepared for anything that comes your way.  

For more inspiration for your well-being and career, check out our blog especially for nurses. 

To learn how you can join our community of nurses leading the way in cardiovascular disease prevention and management, contact us online or call 608.250.2440 today.

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