4 answers

Are there ways to deal with an unprofessional coworker without involving hr or is it always better to bring in a supervisor?

Asked Baltimore, Maryland

I have had issues in the past with unprofessional coworkers and did not speak up. I want to know what I should say if issues like the ones I had in the past come up again. #human-resources #employer-relations #supervisor

4 answers

Nancy’s Answer

Updated Waterford, Connecticut

It's usually best to try and work out issues directly with your coworkers rather than going to management or HR provided you feel comfortable addressing your coworker. However, if the issue is regarding a violation of company policy or law you should bring it forward to management or HR to investigate and address immediately.

Your coworker may not realize they are being "unprofessional" and speaking to them could resolve the issue, it's always good to give it a try, again, provided you feel comfortable addressing the person.

Thank you for your answer!

Daniela’s Answer

Updated State of Goiás, State of Goiás, Brazil

Hi Mounia,

Everyone has a bad day but if conflicts with your co-workers are affecting your work or making you seriously miserable, you need to do something about it.

Here are some more tips:

As you might expect, you need to control your emotions. You aren't going to make good decisions in an emotional state. If a co-worker has made you totally nuts, take a timeout and go someplace where you can calm yourself and review the situation.

Make sure you have the facts and understand the situation. Is it possible that you got emotional and are misinterpreting what is going on? It might be helpful to jot down the situation as you see it and review it a day later just to see if your perspective has changed.

Is it really a problem? This is totally up to you. Maybe after reflecting for a day, you'll decide that whatever is going on isn't really a problem for you. In that case, forget about it. If it is a problem - you need to do something about it. No problem in the history of human relations was ever resolved by being ignored.

Don't go to your boss with every issue. First try to resolve the problem with your co-worker before escalating to your boss. Your boss will appreciate it.

Talk to your co-worker. You knew that was coming, didn't you? Don't email them, don't phone them if they are in the same office - find a time when the two of you can be alone and say "I think we are having some challenges in the way we are working together. Do you have some time now to talk about it?". Email is an especially bad way to deal with problems. The tone doesn't come across and email can be easily misunderstood. Avoid flame wars.

Give them your perspective from your point of view. This is really important. Don't say "You are making fun of me in meetings." Use 'I-phrases'. "I interpreted your comments in the meeting as minimizing my contribution. Do you feel that I'm not pulling my weight?" Don't accuse your co-worker, or you will quickly get into an escalated confrontation. Tell them how you see the situation and how it makes you feel.

Suggest solutions. Make positive statements ("I would like it if you would take the time to consider my suggestions") rather than negative statements ("I hate it when you ignore me").

Be prepared to accept criticism. Maybe you are doing something that is driving your co-worker to act out. Listen carefully and use agree-empathize-inquire.

If you're lucky and the other person is reasonable, this should be enough to resolve the problem. If it does, be sure to check in with your co-worker every once in a while and say "I'm really glad we were able to work out our differences. Is there anything else we need to talk about?" Open communication is the best way to avoid future problems.

What if you are unable to solve the problem? Now it gets tricky.

Ask a few other people in the office if they see the conflict. And I mean, a "few". Just a couple of close friends. You don't want everyone in the office to start taking sides. Something like "It seems to me that Freida is ignoring me in meetings. Is that how you see it?" What you want here is confirmation that the problem is serious enough to escalate.

Enlist a common friend as a mediator. Maybe. If there is someone you both trust and are friendly with, ask them if they can help you resolve the problem. "How can I work better with Freida?" But give them the opportunity to say 'no'. They may not want to get involved, and that's perfectly ok. It's your problem, not theirs. Use your judgment.

Talk with your boss. Really, this is the last resort. Your boss isn't going to be happy about this conflict. You'll want to pose this as a question: "I've been having a problem with Frieda and I'd like your advice. Do you have any ideas on what I should do next?"

I'm sorry to say that not all problems can be resolved. The other person may have issues you don't know about or don't understand. They may have low self-esteem and they are taking it out on you. Maybe they think you are a threat to them. I have also run across people who were just plain evil. You have two choices in this situation: live with it or find another job.


This page is just the tip of the iceberg on conflict resolution. Here's what else you can do:

Assess your styles of conflict resolution and see what other strategies you can use. After taking the assessment, go to Handling Conflict to interpret the results. Take this quiz to see how well you handle difficult situations now. See suggestions for dealing with specific kinds of difficult people and situations.

Read all this information in: https://www.dougsguides.com/conflicts

I wish you the best of luck!

Thank you for such a great answer!

Joe’s Answer

Updated Nashville, Tennessee

A co-worker (or supervisor) who is "unprofessional" could mean a lot of things. If it is someone telling an "off color" joke then if you feel comfortable address it with them. If you are being harassed, engage management immediately.

Thank you for your answer Joe!

Cherelle’s Answer

Updated Atlanta, Georgia
If the individual is behaving unprofessionally, it is likely that you won't be met with a warm welcome upon attempting to communicate regarding the individual's unprofessionalism in the workplace. De-escalation is key here so I would communicate with my supervisor regarding these concerns and request that he/she serve as a mediator or that he/she speak to the co-worker exclusively to get the issue resolved. Here's why: When a person of leadership, especially one who carries more weight when making decisions pertaining to disciplinary action get involved, the chances of that individual being receptive to what you are saying increase by default. You want to be taken seriously and you want actual results rather than an empty attempt that left you feeling as though you have wasted your time or even made the issue worse. I wouldn't go it alone if your co-worker already has an unprofessional demeanor, as it would be incredibly risky since it is HIGHLY likely that their response to your concern would mirror their unprofessional behavior. Let your supervisor be your armor and win the war.