How to Deal with a Difficult Coworker- How to Answer?

How to Deal with a Difficult Coworker?

Qualifying in the interview round for a job is like running the finals of a hurdle race. Beyond it lies all the glory, but first, you have to tackle some boulders. Not only are there any obstacles in the path, but there are competitors too. You have to cross over the barrier, as well as try your best to set yourself apart from others. Besides having all the educational qualifications and work experience for a job position, there is one other thing that you have to face. Those difficult questions, where you might find yourself going blank. Like facing a penalty kick by the best player in the opposing team. As a goalkeeper, you are there alone to defend the post. At such times, confusion may cloud the clarity of thoughts. But, remember to take a deep breath and rely on your past experiences. It is your best teacher. One such question that determines whether you excel in an interview or not is, “how to deal with a difficult coworker.”

This question is used as a tool for the behavioral analysis of a job candidate. In today’s time, when everyone is at par with each other, it becomes important to set new demarcation lines. To distinguish the best from the rest, interviewers use this technique. An inquiry like this can unsettle someone who is not prepared enough. A probe into sensing how one would respond in a situation that is unfavorable for them. Trying to see how honest someone is with the bitter parts that come along with working in an organization. These questions are framed in a manner that highlights the positive or pessimistic streak of an individual. How they organize their thoughts about the situation paints a clear picture for the interviewer. Based on the response to such interrogation, the company decides if you are a good fit for them. 

What is the intent behind asking such a behavioral question?

Reasoning always comes before the response. So, it becomes obvious to first understand what exactly the interviewer is looking for in a suitable candidate. This interrogation may seem similar to a question asked on a date. That is exactly the intention. The company wants to know if you will gel well with their culture. If you are someone who can turn a hostile environment into a friendly one. They want to understand the extent of your diplomatic approach. Basic ways in which you respond under mayhem. It acts as a test to see whether you crack or prevail through all. Frankly, in the world mapped all over with footprints, the annoying kinds are frequent. Think about it. Haven’t you met someone at your workplace who has irked you? Maybe because of their lack of punctuality leading to delay in submission of work assignments. Someone who loves to take credit for others’ hard work. Someone that tries to spread rumors about you. There are many types of them.  

What the company wants to know is how you deal with them. What set of interpersonal skills do you possess that gives you an edge above others? If you are the one that can take over the role of a leader if need be so. How efficient you are as a team player not only in good times but on bad turns too.

Various ways in which “how to deal with a difficult coworker” question may be framed 

A particular question can be composed in different ways but the intention behind it remains the same. It’s crucial to not get perplexed by the wording and to focus on the underlying meaning of it. 

Mentioned below are a few examples of inquiries that should be interpreted as “how to deal with a difficult coworker”:-

  1. Was there a time when you had to work with someone you didn’t like and how did you mediate the situation?
  2. How have you dealt with a workplace conflict in the past?
  3. Was there a situation in which your co-worker wasn’t fulfilling their responsibility?
  4. How do you deal while with a coworker who is challenging to work with?
  5. Brief us about an instance where you had to address a difficult issue because of a co-worker.

What you should not do while answering the question

In every safety module, the actions to prevent are mentioned in bold. So, for something like a job interview, which is a matter of massive boost or a major disappointment, let’s look into what not to do. Don’t before Dos.  

Here are some markers that you must refrain from using, to ensure that your image is not distorted:

  • Never say Never Have I ever

In two different individuals there resides two different opinions. Now, in a place that requires the collaboration of many people, there is going to be a dispute. The biggest mistake you could make is to say that you have never encountered such a scenario. Your image will be tainted by the label of dishonesty. Eluding such an important question will be seen as a mark of someone who lacks conviction. So, the first guideline is not to escape it. Rather, take it in your stride and earn some brownie points by acing it.

  • Avoid mentioning a situation where the issue of conflict is trivial

Someone that slams at their keyboard and disrupts your focus. A colleague who keeps on updating you about their love life that you’re not even slightly interested in. Someone whose chewing sound is more than that of you speaking. All of them sure sounds annoying. These situations are certainly troublesome. But are they worth mentioning to highlight your problem-solving capacity? Think about the vast amount of people you have encountered during your working experience. And, choose wisely.

  • Unresolved mysteries are best left unsaid

Do not touch on a significant issue from the past that was never solved. A story without morale at the end has no substance to it. Similarly, narrating an episode that ended ambiguously will have negative effects. It’s better to leave them out. What you must display here is an episode where your patience masks all the annoyance. Not the other way around.

  • Age does not equate to experience

This may be a unique layout but it could occur. To be prepared is better than damage control. You might end up answering an interviewer who seems younger than you. In such instances, perceiving age as a symbol for experience is incorrect. Refrain from looking down at them. You are the one responsible for answering. Formulate your responses respectfully. Remember, wisdom is a virtue of cognitive intelligence and not just the years spent on earth.

How to answer the question – “how to deal with a difficult coworker”

By now, we know what the job evaluator is searching for. So, let’s focus on how to deliver our best shot. To be ready with your answer before walking into the interview is the most effective solution. We have to display our emotional quotient in a positive light. The way you formulate your response will show various facets of your personality. Firstly, don’t get anxious. Ensure that your thoughts do not start derailing. Take a few seconds to get in a calm composure. Remember to keep your face devoid of any stressful expression. Also, keep in mind all ‘The Don’ts’. Then use the steps described below to develop the most appropriate answer. 

Step 1: Build the base of the plot

This step involves laying down the stage. Describe all the different factors involved in the situation. Do not come off in a complaining tone about your colleague. It will show that you have a pessimistic streak. All challenges offer us a chance to learn. So, narrate in a way where you gained victory over a difficult scenario and not over a person. Highlight your belief in sorting out the conflict in private. It will exhibit that you are willing to pursue the right and courteous approach. Revealing your commitment to team building. Using ‘I’ oriented sentences is another way to eliminate any criticizing tone of your narration. You have to be extra cautious to not belittle the other party involved. Deprecating them even unintentionally will be dangerous for your image. Devise the most constructive layout to go about this. The hiring authority has thrown a curveball at you. Here, you have the chance to change a minus into a plus. Bring the focus to your ability to deal with uncomfortable situations and in achieving triumph over them.

Step 2: Describe your action

Conveying the actions you took to deal with the conflict in an optimistic manner is tricky. But, it is not impossible. This part is quintessential in establishing you as the flawed protagonist in the story. The revelation about how you see others who play a role in the situation will give them a glimpse into your true persona.  

Don’t start spilling dirt over your past employers or colleagues. Try to display your patience over irritation. Emotions can conceal the sense of judgment. It is better to keep the emotional part out. 

The method you chose to disperse the concern. How well satisfied were all the parties involved in it. Was the combative measure appropriate or could there have been a better alternative? All these queries will be directly addressed by what you say in this part. Designing the truth with greater accessibility is done here. Elimination and fabrication are two incompatible concepts. Don’t mistake one for another. To leave out useless details is a smart stride. But, to build something out of thin air is an unjust way to reach your goal. This will further give you a guilt complex. So, describe your action on the core principle of honesty, politeness, pragmatism, and respect. Be objective in allocating the responsibility of the dispute to the other person and yourself. Also, give the credit where it is due for the solution.

Step 3: Declare the result

The setting of the plot is important. The action that solved the ill-fitting puzzle demonstrates your efforts. But without a productive gain, they will hold a negligible value. In every superhero movie, there is something worth fighting for. Yet, it is deemed engrossing when after the first half of the picture, the hero realizes what he was doing wrong. A modern-day story has imperfect leads. Making them believable. In the same manner, after the delivery of the action, what was the result? Was it beneficial to the assignment that was stuck because of differing views? Did your colleague and you work closely on the project after taking steps? Was this one of the reasons for your smooth journey in your last company or is this why you left the place? None of the well-thought measures to resolve have any significance if the outcome was null. Let them know how much you were invested in understanding the opposing side. Tell them about the insights you obtained from the perspective of the other person involved. Your empathetic way of understanding them. How you let diplomacy govern your direction rather than frustration fueling your motives. Show your interviewer that your work rises above personal feelings. Express that your commitment is towards the company. Indicate that the job and your responsibility are your priority.

Step 4: Reinstate the learning 

Gaining in a practical sense from overcoming a troublesome bend shows one’s capabilities. Furthermore, a lesson that shapes your individuality sets you apart in the crowd. In a world that focuses on materialistic benefits, emphasizing your learnings will give you an added advantage. In the sea of resumes, your interview will stand out. On the condition that you choose to be authentic and take responsibility. Accept the fact that you could have prevented the conflict by taking a different route. Then, highlight how you would ensure to never get tangled up in a similar situation. Demonstration of your strong opinions but also regard towards authority is paramount. As companies want to hire determined employees that can obey and work efficiently. Reflect on the extent of professionalism that you can exhibit when necessary. Color the lens with positivity when viewing the other party’s actions. As you go on framing the answer, instill the scenarios displaying your soft skills. Nothing is braver than accepting your shortcomings. If while solving the disagreement, you came across your flaw, then acknowledging it would indicate your righteousness. These abilities must include your creative approach, objective view, problem-solving capability, goal orientation, and team spirit. Keep it brief and bias-free.   

Features to highlight:

Once you have formulated your answer according to the guidelines provided above, build a mental checkpoint. The role of this checkpoint is to mentally review your answer. To self-observe whether it contains all the elements that indicate you as a prospective good employee or not. Below mentioned ways are effective in solving real-time work disputes. Also, these pointers will help you navigate around rearranging your response to make it more suitable. 

Here are a few indicators to verify if you are giving the question your best response:

  • Good listening ability

Simply listening can do wonders to solve any kind of conflict. Most of the time, what we do is hear. In this case, one might not feel heard. So, it becomes crucial to create a safe space where the focus is oriented towards involving even non – verbal forms of communication. Body language plays a pivotal role when one is a listener. Another benefit will be an increase in understanding the intrinsic issue. The saying ‘What you give is what you will receive’ is the perfect statement to understand this way of addressing a dispute. People will listen to you attentively when you become a good listener. This will lead to a more receptive work environment where there is overall welfare. 

  • Controlled action and reaction

A clear distinction between a workplace and your home is the difference in emotional expression. This is an unsaid yet vital rule of behaving in a professional environment. There should be a certain control over the emotional range expressed through action or reaction in the place of duty. What we emit through our behavioral response determines our true work ethic. The basic step is to keep our anger, frustration, and disappointment in check. Even when someone rubs us in the wrong way, we must be mindful in showing our disapproval. No slack will be cut for being impolite in a professional space. Everyone has a private life that is filled with ups and downs. We must treat each other patiently and empathetically. 

  • Communicating and building a rapport

This does not indicate that you have to establish a friendship with all your colleagues. It rather entails collaborating in an environment that has a strong base of communication. A foundation where everyone is well aware of boundaries and is willing to work towards a common goal.A team that has the core of mutual understanding. A workplace with individuals that agrees with the jobs assigned. Where civility and formality in approaching a coworker are quintessential. 

Sample answer for demonstration:

Interviewer: Tell us about how you deal with a difficult coworker by giving us an example from your past.

Response: During my internship at a firm, I was working as a content writer. My role involved collaborating daily with an interning graphic designer to develop posts on a campaign I had ideated. Having heard about his remarkable talents, I was looking forward to working with him. But, he was constantly late in designing the posts and kept on stretching the work till the last minute. I explained to him my expectations from the campaign and asked about his delay. Initially, he was reluctant in accepting any fault. I readjusted my timeline to make sure that we could compensate for the time lost and took up a share of editing work so that the load is lessened. I assured him that I will do the preliminary concept designing. After a while, he told me that he was also involved in another project which required him to implement a skill set that he didn’t possess and hence took time. He confided in me that this work was never mentioned in the job description. We then together went to our content head and informed her about the situation. She delegated the workload of the graphic designer and for the rest of the duration of the campaign, we worked as a great team making it a success.

Tip – Using a campaign or an assignment that you worked on as an example will alleviate your chances of getting selected. As it will indicate that you were able to solve a complex issue in a matter of importance. It will also show that you have worked in a position of responsibility. Another benefit of using this example will be giving a prompt for the next question. So, get ready with the next answer to the question – Tell us more about the campaign/ assignment you worked on and in what ways was it seen as successful.


Behavioral questions carry the capability to make us feel uneasy. As they wish to know more about what you as an individual are. These queries have the intention of unraveling the person hidden behind all the degrees, letters of reference, and past experiences. In a competitive atmosphere as today, it is becoming difficult for companies to place declare someone as the best in the lot. So, they rely on knowing what you carry inside your exterior. Your thoughts, your values, your deal-breaker, and the factor that can win you over. They want to know it all. Offer them your reality with sincerity. Remember to carry your smile and confidence through it all. Of course, depending on your personal belief and experience, the answer might differ from the example given above. But, prepare well in advance whatever set of facts you are going to present. In the end, what they want to see is your good-natured heart and level-headed mind. Whatever may the story be, let the learning from it be magnificent.  

How to Deal with a Difficult Coworker- How to Answer?

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