How did you cope with the most difficult colleague you've ever had?

  | James Innes

How did you cope with the most difficult colleague you've ever had?

Alternative and related questions:

Have you ever had problems getting on with a colleague?
Is there anyone you currently work with that you find really difficult to relate to?
What sort of person do you find it difficult to work with?
Have you ever had to work with someone really difficult?

The meaning behind the question:

The way in which you answer this question will tell the interviewer pretty much everything they need to know about your interpersonal skills.

When it comes to dealing with interpersonal conflict, there are three main ways in which you might react:

  • Do you clash head-on with difficult people?
  • Do you find ways to deal with them?
  • Do you run away and hide?!

The interviewer wants to ascertain which of these categories you fall into. It’s a probing question that will not only tell them how you are likely to interrelate with your colleagues but will also speak volumes about your character in general.

While it might seem blatantly obvious what makes someone difficult to work with, the interviewer will also be interested in your perception of what makes a colleague difficult.

Your answer:

The correct answer is of course to convey to the interviewer that you firmly fall into the second category. You want to demonstrate that you are someone who, when faced with a difficult colleague (or customer, for that matter) will find ways to deal with them – and to put your relationship on a more positive footing. It’s a great opportunity to portray yourself as management material.

The interviewer won’t want to hire a hothead who is just going to clash with their colleagues, nor do they want to hire someone who is going to be prone to being bullied. Most working environments contain at least one ‘difficult’ person – it’s the school bully syndrome. It’s a fact of life and you’ve got to show that you can cope with it – not only that you can cope with it but that you can, in spite of the difficulties, successfully work with such individuals.

Empathy is very important but it’s vital to be assertive with it or you’re not going to get very far.


Like everybody, I’ve certainly had to deal with difficult colleagues on occasion – colleagues who have failed to pull their weight, who have been too ready to blame others for their errors or who simply have an unpleasant and unprofessional attitude. I’m not afraid of making my opinion known and I believe that communication – especially in difficult or high pressure situations – is essential in developing effective working relationships. While some interpersonal conflict is inevitable, I don’t believe in clashing head-on with a difficult colleague. It’s much more productive to try to understand them, to reason with them and to find ways of working through any difficulties you may have. Communication is the key. You often find that someone, with whom you initially had difficulties, can, once you’ve reached an understanding, become a valued co-worker

The Interview Question & Answer Book

The Interview Question and Answer Book

Take the fear out of your interview and never be stuck for the right answer to even the toughest questions with The Interview Question & Answer Book.

The job market is fierce, competition has never been greater and it's important that you can grab every opportunity for competitive advantage and stay one step ahead. Written by one of the world's leading careers experts and bestselling author of The Interview Book, this definitive guide to questions and answers encourages every job-hunter to think on your feet and express your individuality while supplying ideal responses to interview questions so that you’re seen as the ideal candidate for the job.


Order The Interview Question & Answer Book from Amazon

Have your career documents written by the professionals!
Order Now