How to Handle a Difficult Coworker


Today we are going to talk about an issue that one of my readers (Natasha) is having, and Natasha writes…


“There is this lady at work, and she is horrible. I’ve been working at this new job for about 8 months now, and this woman (who will remain nameless) is not even my official boss, but she has been there forever, knows everything, and she treats me like an insect. Every chance she gets she undermines me, she makes me feel stupid, and she even criticized my shoes on ‘casual Friday’! I’m not sure what to do. I know her life would be better if I quit, but I like everyone else there, and I love the job itself. What should I do?
– Natasha”


What a pickle that is, Natasha! I’m going to share my story of a super similar issue I was having and how it turned out in the end and the TWO MAIN LESSONS I LEARNED.


Wow, do I know how you feel! I had a very similar thing happen to me when I was just starting out in my career. I had just landed my first job as the receptionist of a large busy law firm in the downtown core. I loved the job. I loved the owner of the firm and all the attorneys who worked there, but there was one woman seemed to enjoy making my life crazy. A lot happened in that job and more happened after I left, and I’d like to share that story with you today as I think it will really help you and anyone else dealing with a crazy b.i.t.c.h.


So, we’ll call this lady Heidi. She was a bully, similarly to your situation, and she had been there forever. She NEVER made a mistake (maybe once/year if we were lucky) and she never, ever had patience for me. When I first started I had a lot of questions, but she did NOT want to answer anything. Once she told me to get coffee mugs for the office, and then she told me that the mugs I picked out were the ugliest things she had ever seen.


At this time, so early in my career, I was inexperienced and I didn’t have the tools to deal with her anger towards me. The best I could do was go into her office and start telling her how I felt. I ended up bawling my eyes out. She apologized and then she was nice for a couple of days after that but then just proceeded to go back to EXACTLY the way she was.


I thought that was just who she was as a person and that nothing could be done. Either I had to learn to live with it, or I had to leave.


What happened then? Well, after a while I did leave. I was headhunted by another firm with all expenses paid to come and work for them as a paralegal. They said they would fund all my training while I worked. Wow, I was stoked! I also knew that this meant I didn’t suck as much as “Heidi” wanted me to think I did. I was actually pretty good at my job, even though at the time I felt like I couldn’t do a single thing right.



BIG LESSON #1 Don’t put so much weight on one person’s opinion or behaviour towards you.


I went on to work for this other firm and proceeded in my career and my life happy to have Heidi out of it and hoped to NEVER see her again.


So 5 years later my husband and I were making a real estate purchase, and we needed a lawyer to draw up the papers for us. The firm where I had worked with Heidi did that type of work. I didn’t want to go back there because of her. I also knew that prices for conveyancing fees were insane and that the owner of the firm (the great guy that he is) would give me a big discount if we went there, and it would also be great to see him.


So, I knew what I had to do. I made an appointment to go in and see him.


Before I went in, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from Heidi. She would probably be super nice to my face, and as soon as I left, she would make some comment under her breath about how bad my decision was to purchase this house at this time was, or how I had come crawling back, or something equally mean. I really thought I knew her that well that I could predict what she’d say.


My husband actually said to me, “Maybe she’s changed.”


I said, “Nah. Once a bitch, always a bitch.”


But when I walked in and I saw her, I was humbly proven wrong.


My heart sank, and I just felt awful for everything I had ever said or thought about her.




She had lost a lot of weight, she was small and frail, she was bald and she was clearly missing a breast.


She had been fighting breast cancer for who knows how long.


What’s the lesson here?


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Now, whether Heidi had been fighting cancer for a while before, I don’t know, or whether Karma took its toll on her for being so mean (the thought did cross my mind…), but regardless of the why, I couldn’t help but think that I was sitting there heathy, happy, grateful for my life and just ashamed that I had not even stopped to consider for a second what was going on in HER life. She could have had to go through a lot more than I could ever see, and maybe she was just doing her best.


So, this woman you speak of, Natasha, what is she going through? What is her life really like outside of work? What if you knew she was fighting cancer? Would that change the way you felt about her? Would you still see her the same way?


I want to be clear that in no way do I excuse her behaviour. There is no excuse for it. But there might just be a reason for it.


There you have it Natasha, I hope this has helped. This was a big topic for me and I hoped that my story can shed some light on yours.


Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever worked with someone who is just plain mean? How did you deal? Your insight here could help someone else, so please share it in the comments below.


If this story resonated with you, and you’d like to keep in touch with me via email click the box below to get started. You’ll receive Q&A’s like this on the weekly, plus more personal insights from me that I only share via email. Remember this too, if you have a question for me I’m here to help so don’t be shy!


Do you know one person who could benefit from the information shared in this story? If so, pay it forward and share with them.


And remember, the current way in which most of us approach our careers isn’t perfect by any means, but I know you can outsmart it. I know you have what it takes and I’ve got you covered.


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I’ll see you next time and I can’t wait!


In Work & Life

I’ve got your back.


1 comment on “How to Handle a Difficult Coworker

  1. Yes, you are right with those two points. To simplify them, first point is security, and the second is consideration. The two should go hand in hand. I hope I got this right because I and my girlfriend have issues with co-workers too. I think it is normal in a workplace and, at times, healthy – it’s how people grow and learn. Good points, Natalie! You give tips but not overwhelming us, no spoonfeeding. Good Job!

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