Complain About a Co-Worker Without Being a Tattletale

Don't Be An Office TattletaleEverybody has that one person in mind. It feels like there’s almost always that one employee who never comes to work on time, eats their smelly food at their desk , or tends to make offhanded remarks while at work. While you should always strive to build strong working relationships with your fellow co-workers, sometimes those workplace relationships can’t grow without resolving the inevitable conflicts that arise when working with other people.

While complaining at every turn may not be the best way for you to resolve the situation, there are several things you can do to ease the tension without gaining the reputation of being the workplace crier. Here are some ways you can let your co-worker know how annoying they are without getting them in trouble or you looking like a squealer.

Make it Better Before it Gets Worse
More often than not, problems or issues that are ignored and unaddressed can build up until they explode into a less than professional situation for you. It’s far better to address the difficult person while maintaining some objectivity and emotional control. Take the time to understand why you feel this way and how your co-worker’s behavior can affect productivity.

If you don’t handle it on your own and go straight to management with your issues, it can tarnish your image of being promotable. Managers will wonder why you’re not able to resolve the issue, which will make them wonder if you have the ability and understanding to lead and make difficult decisions for the company.

Go Mano-a-Mano
One of the easiest ways to resolve an issue with a co-worker is to be a friend. After all, you are trying to look out for your employer and your co-worker’s best interest. Pull your co-worker aside and mention that they’re breaking a rule. If a colleague is using foul language in the workplace, tell them that their manager is bound to hear it at some point. This kind of method helps you communicate a minor complaint without putting the spotlight on yourself.

Sometimes you have to be direct, but with a pleasant and agreeable attitude when talking to your co-worker. Try discussing how their actions make you feel.  If a co-worker keeps coming in late, explain why you have to put off your lunch breaks to cover for them. Unfortunately, some difficult people just don’t care. During the discussion, try to reach an agreement about positive and supportive actions going forward. Then, make sure to follow up with the co-worker to see if any progress has been made.

When in Doubt, Reach Out
If you’ve done all you can on your own, it might be time to call for some help. Consider rallying other employees who might also have an issue with the annoying co-worker. But be careful with this approach.  Other employees might not have put the same tact and effort into their confrontation with the co-worker. Sometimes, a group approach can make your manager think that the impact of the behavior is wider and deeper than originally determined. Be careful with this approach, however. Know what works with your boss.

If you have to go to a manager, try going to the co-workers direct supervisor so the situation won’t escalate too far. If you do go to upper management, make sure your complaints are valid and it is a serious enough offense that disciplinary action should be taken. When talking to the manager, make sure you include a good amount of praise for the co-worker. Explain how you tried to work things out, but it didn’t get anywhere.

Make it Productive
Before talking to management about the situation, figure out if there are any flaws or areas of improvement in your employer’s policy and procedures. Maybe better training or scheduling is needed to avoid situations. Focusing on the root of the problem and offering ideas to fix the situation can make a great impression on your boss and is more effective than complaining. It turns you from a whiner into a problem solver. No boss on the planet is going to be upset when you go to them with a solution.

Sometimes it can be difficult to address conflicts in the workplace, but they don’t have to be as dreadful if you keep a positive attitude and put the focus on improving the situation and not on your complaints. What are some ways you have dealt with annoying co-workers? Let us know in the comments below.


  1. Alanthia Sutton

    I have not always been the best judge of character and tact when it comes to dealing with workplace conflict; however, I have had some small successes. I once had a very difficult manager that showed me the cold shoulder on several occassions. I was pulled into the office to have a discussion about how strained the work relationship was becoming. The meeting did not go well! I decided to rethink my approach. I finally asked her what had happened to cause such a disconnect. Her response has a statement I had made during my first few weeks in my current role. Wow, how eye opening! This manager had taken the remark in the wrong context and we had shaped our working relationship around it. So be careful what you say and ask what the problem is in the beginning to save face.

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      Jared Cole

      Great story, Alanthia! It’s amazing what can be solved with simple communication. Thanks for visiting the blog!

  2. Jack Trainor

    I was on the receiving end of a fellow employee who complained to management about me before I was even aware there was a problem. Between taking steps on my part to mitigate the issue and discovering that I was not alone (several others had also suffered such complaints), things are better, but my working relationship with this coworker is strained. Working in a cubicle farm doesn’t help, either. Going to the other party first shows a level of maturity that reduces workplace friction.

  3. Bernadette VanDunk

    I’m sorry this advice will only work (mano-a-mano) if the person who is causing the issues is willing to accept it, where I work, handling the problem by talking it out and letting them know how you feel regarding their work ethics simply put, erupts into a brawl because the person does not want to (unless they are up to it) participate in making the workload lighter, we have more people taking smoke breaks (including the supervisor) than getting the work completed, then the supervisor hammers the people who don’t smoke about how much work is being completed, I’m sorry but this advice will only work for maybe corporate america, it just doesn’t apply for those of us in public sector employment.

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      Jared Cole

      Bernadette, Thanks for your feedback and experience. It’s true that sometimes a situation is beyond your control, and you’ll have to take it to a supervisor. I try to handle situations before getting management involved. It benefited me when I worked in retail and in my office job. Again, thank you so much for your opinion and feel free to keep up the feedback.

  4. Mark Stoll

    I hear you loud and clear. Well, you know, there might be personality conflicts with the blue collar workers in factories and restaurants and bars, but there can also be problems at really good places to work, too. Just because you have a college degree doesn’t make you immune to it. It’s everywhere, because we are all human. A case in point: I worked for a Fortune 500 research firm here in Columbus for 22 years and there were problems there. We had a character working there who was alpha male, powered by testosterone, and a real bully. He was very controlling and cornering and manipulative. From the minute that he walked in through the front door, he thought he owned the place. He made it miserable for everyone else. He was just another co-worker, but he thought he was God. We all told the boss about him, but the boss wouldn’t discipline him, because he was scared of him. Some of us even went over the boss’ head and told the management. I don’t know if the bully or the boss ever got reprimanded, but they should have. And when I was working in a grocery store on the east side of Newark in 1980, there was a bully there, too. He would try to get you to go to his cult church, and if you were reluctant to do so, he would take a swing at you and stike out at you. The boss did nothing, because again, he was scared of him. And guess what? Both bosses were named Jim. Go figure. Oh, well…

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      Jared Cole

      Very true, Mark. It seems inevitable that no matter where you work, you’ll run into a conflict of some sort. It doesn’t matter what industry or field you work in, conflict will happen at some point. That’s why it’s important to understand and handle the situation in a professional manner without causing more conflict. Thanks for sharing your stories, I’d love to hear more.

  5. Beto Mexica

    I agree 100%. I have a coworker who is always telling on people about minor issues without addressing the issue with the person involved. This has caused two problems: managaement is getting tired of hearing her complain and no one trusts her. Whereas, almost everyone provides discreet, constructive criticsm of each other’s work, this person is now singled out and put under a microscope by all the people she told on. Her life in the office has become unpleasant and unproductive. Telling certainly back fired on her as she alienated herself from everyone she told on. . .

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      Jared Cole

      Thanks for providing your experience, Beto. It almost reminds me of the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” scenario. If you go to your managers with too many problems without trying to fix them yourself, it will end up reflecting poorly on you. That actually might make a good blog post in the future… Hmmm….

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