Dealing with a difficult co-worker is never fun, especially when it comes to handling a negative colleague who is bringing down morale. When this happens, don’t shy away from the conflict — face it head on.

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Q: I have an unpleasant co-worker who makes snarky comments every day. She’s getting on everyone’s nerves and has turned our previously great department into an unfriendly environment. What should I do to make her stop?

A: Whenever I’ve been around people who make snide or critical comments, the root cause of the behavior usually ends up being that they’re unhappy about something, such as not getting a promotion, being given job assignments they don’t like or even personal problems that manifest in inappropriate behavior at work.

Based on how comfortable you are with conflict, you have several options on how to handle the situation.

Be a concerned co-worker. My preferred first choice is to directly approach the person for a quick chat, right after you hear them say something inappropriate: “Sue, are you okay? That comment you just made about <insert subject here> didn’t sound like you. What’s going on?”

Then listen to what he or she has to say. Everyone deserves a break in life, and it’s often better to have a co-worker who has witnessed the situation step forward to point out the behavior and discuss it.

Reiterate appropriate office behavior. If you’ve already taken the compassionate route and the person continues the poor behavior, step it up a notch. The next time he or she says something snarky, take them aside for another discussion: “What you said to Tom was inappropriate. We had a previous conversation about your negative comments. Help me understand why you’re continuing this behavior.” Then let them respond.

In some situations, the person may get defensive. Remain calm and compassionate, but stand your ground. “I understand you’re angry about not getting promoted. But making mean and nasty comments to others isn’t going to help your case for obtaining a promotion in the future. I don’t want to have to bring this situation to our manager’s attention, but if you continue behaving this way, you’ll leave me with no other choice.”

Speak with your manager. If you’ve completed the first two steps with no behavior improvement, schedule some time with your manager. Explain what you’ve done to try to alleviate the situation. Ask for your manager’s assistance, so the department can get back to being a friendly and productive environment. Depending on the severity of the co-worker’s behavior, your manager may need to follow the employer’s disciplinary process, which could lead to the termination of the co-worker’s employment.

Lisa Quast is a certified executive coach, and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at