Relationships can be hard. Dealing with difficult people, or someone who might have a different opinion, different values, bad habits or a really bad attitude is never easy. If that clashing of personalities happens in your personal life, you have a few options for how to respond. You can slam the door, use inappropriate language, and roll your eyes with your best friend or your spouse all you want (though it might not be the best approach). But if you have to deal with a difficult individual in the workplace, then it’s a totally different story.  The way you handle a toxic colleague could end up making YOU look bad, not your difficult, know-it-all, pain-in-the-butt, lazy co-worker.

And like it or not, chances are you will be faced with one of these dreaded colleagues on more than one occasion in your career. We’ve all been there…the new guy who thinks he knows all the answers even though he graduated college 3 weeks ago…the suck up…the conniving manager who will do anything to get to the top…the list goes on. As Fast Magazine reports, according to psychologist Paul White, co-author of Rising Above a Toxic Workplace: Taking Care of Yourself in an Unhealthy Environment, “toxic individuals can not only breed a pessimistic work environment, but can negatively impact productivity and decision-making.” The way you react will make a big difference in your career path, and theirs, so choose your actions wisely. Here are 9 ways to handle a difficult co-worker, so you can get ahead.

1. Stay Focused on Your Goals
If you are in your role for the right reasons, then you have goals for yourself at work. You are (hopefully) passionate about what you do, so keep your focus on that passion and drive, and wake up every day thinking about what you want to achieve. Don’t waste energy or time thinking about what your lazy cubicle-mate said during your morning meeting; instead file it away for safekeeping, and go back to your projects. Put all of your effort behind your work and don’t let a difficult co-worker negatively impact the quality of your work, or your ability to accomplish great things every day.

Read Related: How to Gain Respect: 8 Ways to Command More of it at Work


2. Don’t Let their Negativity Affect You
When it comes to dealing with difficult people, repeat after us: their problems are not your problems. Their negativity is not about you. Don’t take it personally. So your colleague has a bad attitude—they’re probably not trying to piss you off, they might just be a negative person with a bad outlook on life. According to Suzy Welch in O, The Oprah Magazine, “virtually every team destroyer is an unhappy person. No one tries to damage co-workers, a team, or an entire organization without being a bit emotionally damaged themselves.” Again, it’s not about you, it’s about them. Don’t let their negativity affect you.

3. Work Harder
When annoying co-workers slack off, you should work harder. Always. Don’t think of it as you covering for your lazy co-worker who isn’t pulling her weight. Think of it as your chance to shine and show the kind of worker you are, and the quality results you want to achieve. In the end, those who work hard will end up on top, and the Debbie Downers who just sulk and complain and aren’t willing to do their fair share will be left behind.


4. Speak Up when Necessary
We tell our kids to speak up if they are being bullied, and the same rule applies to us in the workplace. If a co-worker is being inappropriate or making you feel attacked or uncomfortable, then you need to say something. Tell your HR department, tell your boss, or speak directly to the bully. If you don’t speak up now, it could make your difficult relationship even worse down the road.

5. Stay True to your Character
Regardless of what happens or how your co-worker may behave, never forget your values and your character and remain true to who you are. Your boss will notice, and most importantly, you’ll be proud of how you act even in the face of controversial behavior and difficult (maybe even borderline dysfunctional) colleagues.


6. Don’t Let them Drag you Down
It can be easy to get sucked into a negative conversation. A casual gossip session about your boss or a client can seem innocent, but if you participate in such a petty, juvenile conversation you’re only supporting and perpetuating your co-worker’s bad behavior. Politely excuse yourself from any situation that you know is bad for business, and let them crash and burn on their own.

7. Sometimes, it’s Best to Ignore
Just like a toddler having a tantrum, sometimes it’s best to ignore a co-worker when they act out, make rude comments, damage the office culture or insult your work.


8. Set Boundaries Upfront
Sure, some types of behavior should be common sense for adults in the working world. But not everyone has the wherewithal to understand what is appropriate and what is completely detrimental to their career. Set boundaries with annoying co-workers upfront so that your entire team knows what will (and what will not) be accepted in your office.

9. Remember: They will get What’s Coming to Them
Remember, these employees who do more damage than good for your team will eventually show their true colors and get exactly what they deserve. Have faith that your hard work and positive attitude will shine, and their negativity will be easy to spot, and even easier to eliminate.