Managing difficult relationships at work

Having a difficult relationship with a colleague can be stressful, and make your work harder to manage, but it is important to remember that you are not alone. Knowing how to better manage these relationships can have a major effect on your overall working environment. Tips on managing a difficult relationship:

Find similarities

By finding something that you both share an interest in can improve your rapport and generate a positive working relationship.

Don’t gossip

Whilst office gossip chat can feel like great bonding moments, it can quickly produce more problems than benefits by putting unnecessary strain on relationships. Best to give it a wide birth if possible.

Remain calm 

You won’t always agree with your colleagues, but don’t let yourself be draw into an argument or confrontation. Find a diplomatic way to avoid unhelpful disagreements whilst still allowing all parties to input and work together.

Professional distance 

Everyone you work with will not turn out to be a life-long friend. It’s important to remember that work is work and to retain a professional distance from those work colleagues who you find harder to relate to and work with.

Don’t remain silent 

If a colleague says or does something that you find upsetting or offensive, make sure you find an appropriate time to speak with them in private about it. Calmly explain the situation and your feelings – they may be totally unaware that their behaviour could be upsetting to others, and if handled sensitively, this conversation should help you both.

However, if their behaviour continues unchanged after your conversation, or you don’t feel able to talk directly to your colleague, discuss your concerns with your manager or employer.

My employer/manager is the issue. What can I do? 

Having a good relationship with your employer/manager can help you feel supported, involved and invested in your role. However, a difficult relationship might make your working life feel harder and impact adversely on your wellbeing.

We would advise that you to seek advice promptly from Community in the first instance. You may want to consider some of the following options:

  • Consider first if what your manager is requesting is unreasonable – Is it in line with your job role? Are they being clear about what they expect?
  • Make sure you raise any concerns with your manager promptly and try and resolve issues informally. They may not be aware of how their requests or behaviour have been affecting you, and this gives you both an opportunity to grow and improve. If you don’t feel comfortable meeting with your manager alone, request to bring a colleague with you, or record your meetings by taking notes.
  • Speak to another manager or someone from HR if you don’t feel comfortable discussing the problem with your own employer or manager. Try to provide examples of difficult behaviour and discuss what you would like to change.

Processes and procedures  

Your employer is required to have policies in place to manage and support staff.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) gives the following advice to employers:


  • Encourage good, honest, open communication at all levels.
  • Provide opportunities for social interactions.
  • Provide support for staff who work in isolation.
  • Create a culture where colleagues trust and encourage each other.
  • Agree which behaviours are unacceptable and ensure staff are aware of these.


  • Allow any bullying behaviour or harassment.

In the first instance, employers/managers should try to resolve any difficulties between staff informally and at the lowest possible level, however, employers are required to have a grievance procedure for when relationships are so strained you feel you have no other option other than to make a formal complaint.

If you feel that any difficult relationship at your workplace is bullying, see our guidance on bullying. If you feel you need to make a formal complaint about a colleague or your employer or manager, take a look at our advice on grievances here and contact Community promptly for advice and support on further steps to take.

If you need help or advice, please contact us at or on 0800 389 6332.


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