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How to Handle a Conversation with a Rude and Hostile Co-Worker

How to Handle a Conversation with a Rude and Hostile Co-Worker

This is written for a specific coaching client who is having an issue with a peer at work.  The obnoxious colleague makes belittling comments, constantly interrupts, and often withholds project information, causing delays and failures. Unfortunately, this is common.

Dealing with a co-worker who is openly rude, and hostile can be challenging and uncomfortable. However, addressing the issue directly and professionally is crucial to maintaining a respectful and productive work environment.

Here are some ideas on how to have that difficult conversation, including specific phrases to use to communicate effectively.

  1. Prepare for the Conversation

Before initiating the conversation, make sure to prepare. Reflect on specific instances of rude or hostile behavior, gather any relevant documentation, and consider the impact of this behavior on the team and workplace atmosphere. Having concrete examples will help you articulate your concerns clearly and objectively.

  1. Choose the Right Time and Place

Select a private, neutral setting for the conversation where you will not be interrupted. This ensures that the discussion remains confidential and that both parties can speak openly. Avoid addressing the issue in the heat of the moment or during a meeting, as this can escalate tensions.

  1. Approach with Empathy and Openness

Start the conversation with a calm and empathetic tone. Express your intention to understand their perspective and resolve the issue collaboratively. An open-minded approach can help defuse defensiveness and encourage a more constructive dialogue.

  1. Keep Your Emotions in Check
  • Maintaining control over your own emotions is crucial when addressing a co-worker’s rude and hostile behavior. Entering the conversation with heightened emotions can lead to escalation rather than resolution.
  • Pause and Breathe: Before starting the conversation, take a few deep breaths to calm yourself. This will help you approach the discussion with a clear and composed mind.
  • Focus on Facts, Not Feelings: Stick to the specific behaviors and incidents that have occurred, rather than expressing personal grievances or frustrations. This helps keep the conversation objective and professional.
  • Practice Active Listening: Pay attention to what your co-worker is saying without interrupting or becoming defensive. This shows respect and can help de-escalate tension. But also, do not allow them to interrupt you with their defensive reply.
  • Stay Solution-Oriented: Focus on finding a resolution rather than dwelling on the problem. This positive approach can lead to a more productive conversation.

Example phrases:

  • “I have noticed that during our last few meetings, some of your comments have come across as quite harsh. For instance, during our meeting on [date], when you said [specific comment], it seemed overly critical.”
  • “When you interrupt or raise your voice, like in yesterday’s meeting when you interrupted Jane’s presentation, it makes it hard for others to contribute and creates a tense atmosphere.”
  1. Explain the Impact on the Team

Help your co-worker understand the broader impact of their behavior on the team’s dynamics and productivity. Emphasize that a respectful and collaborative environment is essential for everyone’s success.

Example phrases:

  • “When meetings become confrontational, it affects our ability to collaborate effectively and can demotivate team members.”
  • “It’s important for everyone to share their ideas without fear of being ridiculed or shut down.”
  1. Set Clear Expectations

Clearly and calmly communicate the changes you expect in their behavior. Be specific about what constitutes respectful communication and what behaviors need to stop.

Example phrases:

  • “Going forward, it would be helpful if we all could express our disagreements respectfully, without personal attacks or interruptions.”
  • “I’d appreciate it if we could focus on constructive feedback and maintain a positive tone during our discussions.”
  1. Offer Support and Solutions

Show that you are willing to support your co-worker in making these changes. Suggest solutions or resources that might help, such as communication training or conflict resolution workshops.

Example phrases:

  • “I am here to support you in any way I can. If there are underlying issues causing frustration, perhaps we can strategize together to address them.”
  • “To ensure we have productive and positive meetings in the future, let’s agree on some ground rules for our discussions. For instance, we can commit to listening without interrupting and addressing disagreements respectfully. How does that sound to you?”
  1. Follow Up

After the initial conversation, continue to monitor the situation and provide feedback, as necessary. Acknowledge any positive changes and address ongoing issues promptly to ensure the behavior improves.

Example phrases:

  • “I noticed you have been making an effort to be more mindful of your tone during meetings. Thank you for that.”
  • “Let us continue to work on maintaining a respectful dialogue. If any issues arise, please feel free to discuss them with all of us.”

Having a conversation with a co-worker who is openly rude, and hostile is difficult, but if you do not put a stop to the behavior, it will continue. Remember, the goal is not to confront but to collaborate and foster a positive change. Keeping your own emotions in check is essential to ensure the conversation remains professional and effective.




  1. Susan Koye

    Wonderful article handling difficult employees in an artful manner quickly.

    • Mary Kelly

      You are so kind to comment! It is so hard for some people to confront people professionally, and we both know that we cannot allow bullying to happen in the workplace. Thank you!


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