How to Handle Friction with Co-Workers

How to Handle Friction with Co-Workers

One of the things HR representatives try to do when hiring new people is to find new employees who will integrate well into the existing departments. However, as with other areas in life, friction between co-workers still happens.

If it happens to you, then what should you do? Should you confront a difficult co-worker head-on? Should you just ignore it and learn to live with it? Should you report them to your supervisor or HR and explain your grievances? In today’s blog, we’ll offer some solid advice on handling difficult situations of friction and conflict with your colleagues.

What Are the Most Common Causes of Friction Between Co-Workers?

Let’s first deliver a little background and think about what it is that’s causing this friction between you and the people you’re working with. There are many common causes of such conflict, some of which we’ll list below:

  • Changes in policyare arguably the most frequent cause of tension in the office. It creates particular friction between employees and management, with some policies being divisive or seen as unfair by some team members.
  • Access to amenitiesis also a common source of friction. For example, when one employee takes up too much space in the communal fridge or leaves the microwave in a mess.
  • Personal behavior and habitsoften create friction between staff members who sit close to each other. It could be one person’s choice of cologne/perfume, what they eat at their desk, noises they make, personal hygiene, and more.
  • Unclear roles and responsibilities create friction between team members who are perhaps unclear as to who is more senior than who, creating resentment when one asks for a task of another, for instance. It can also create friction between employees and management who refuse to clarify staff roles. As a result, some employees could be delegated work outside their understood job description.

And so, the list goes on. Regardless of the precise nature of your friction, here are some strategies for handling it better.

Handling Friction with Co-Workers: Strategy Suggestions


So much friction in the workplace can be traced to one person simply viewing the entire situation from their own perspective and not actually considering what they might be contributing to the conflict or why someone’s apparent “bad behavior” isn’t bad. All of this calls for careful self-reflection before taking action on your initial thoughts.

Consider what it is that’s actually bothering you with this person. Does it bother other people, or is it just you? What about what they’re doing or saying makes you feel you need to engage in conflict resolution with them? Is there anything you could change to make the situation better for yourself?

A Change of Perspectives

Following on from the previous point, have you tried to think about this point of friction from the other person’s perspective? Is there anything that you are doing that they could find irritating? Do they have a genuine grievance with you, too? If you try to empathize with your co-worker somewhat, and they with you, your chances of reaching a compromise solution (see below) will be significantly increased.

Another way to look at things from another perspective is to reflect more positively on your co-worker and what you like about them. If you think about it, your friends or family may not be perfect either, but you don’t have much conflict with them. That’s because you allow yourself to acknowledge their redeeming qualities. Try that with your co-worker.

Meet and Discuss

Avoiding the issue altogether is not an option. If your reflection has failed and your friction remains, it must be addressed. You should find the time and place to talk directly with your co-worker in person or in a live chat. Discussing it over email or text is a bad idea because it’s too easy for one’s words and tone to be misinterpreted, which worsens the situation.

During your meeting, keep things civil, cordial, and positive. For example, instead of telling them, “You take up too much space in the fridge, you’re totally inconsiderate!” you might try a more constructive phrasing:

“Lots of us like to bring in our lunch, but I’m afraid it’s hard for us to get our food in the fridge while you’re keeping that extra stuff in there. So, I wonder if you might clear some more space out in consideration for us? We would all appreciate it.”

Try to Create a Compromise

The vast majority of workplace conflicts can be resolved with some kind of compromise. However, if you and the other party struggle to reach a solution, you may need a more formal approach. First, check to see what policies are in place that you need to follow.

You could also reach out to another neutral colleague, perhaps a manager or someone from a different department, to sit and arbitrate for you if that is acceptable and allowed. They can ensure everyone is heard and help to resolve the issue.

When both parties can walk away feeling they have gained something, the chance of future conflict is reduced. When the tension has subsided, you may even find a new friend.

If you have issues with a supervisor, that’s a different course of action. If you’re unsure of what path to take, contact your local APC Steward to clarify what to do.