Resume Tips

How to Deal with Coworkers Who Think They Are Better Than You?

At the office, you can meet a lot of different critters. The know-it-all coworker, who loves showing everyone “how things are done here”. An upstart who always counters any idea you propose with arguments like “this won’t work” or “I don’t think it’s right”. Or just an arrogant type who doesn’t bother honoring any of your requests, even though you’re a higher-up? 

Sounds familiar? According to a recent survey, 90% of Americans have a co-worker that annoys them. Moreover, 57% consider quitting their job because of that lot. 

But don’t rush to file your resignation letter. In most cases, you can easily deal with coworkers who think they are better than you for one reason than another. 

How to Deal With Coworkers Who Think They Are Better Than You

Let’s look at how you can handle the five most annoying types of colleagues a lot of workplaces have. 

The Saboteur

Sabotage at work can take many forms. You get tasks everyone else passed on, your coworkers withhold important information, or downright take credit for your work. There may also be more subtle signs of manipulative, sneaky behavior like snarky remarks on your contributions or ideas in group settings, backhanded compliments, and secretive collaboration with others on the work you’ve been assigned (to then get credit). 

It’s fine to shrug off occasional criticism, but if you don’t fight back, the person will keep taking advantage of you and probably taint your professional reputation.  

How To Deal with a Difficult Coworker Who Undermines You

Such behaviors at the workplace are often driven by the person’s fear of failure or rejection. Passive-aggressive behaviors, combined with backhanded actions, are a common response in such cases. Your goal is to try to understand what exactly forces the undermining employee to act in this way. Are they afraid about their job security? Do they feel that your success makes them look worse? Not everyone knows how to communicate their thoughts and feelings well. If you can dig into your coworker’s underlying concern, you may be able to resolve the issue. 

The Haughty Type 

Maybe this employee gets special treatment at work from your boss. Or they’ve just had high self-confidence, bordering on delusion levels, from their past life experiences. At any rate, their superiority complex is affecting your work. They show a dismissive attitude toward peers and have an inflated sense of self-importance, combined with a penchant for bragging about their (quite average) achievements. The worst part? They’re probably clueless about their superiority complex. 

How To Deal with a Coworker With a Superiority Complex?

A recent study found that people with extroverted and conscientious personalities are more likely to have a superiority complex. People with narcissistic tendencies — a strong self-orientation and egocentricity — are also more likely to fall into this behavior. 

In simpler terms, many people with a superiority complex are more focused on themselves than their community in general. So your best option is to approach the person head-on with examples of their problematic behavior. For example, you can mention how often they’ve dismissed your ideas in the past or interrupted you during virtual meetings. If a private 1:1 doesn’t work, bring up the issue to your manager or HR. 

The Insubordinate

Insubordination is a common issue with new managers, who didn’t yet win points with the team. It can also be a gender or age issue. Older employees may refuse to complete tasks from junior managers or use “their method” instead of following the new instructions. 

A certain degree of defiance is normal in teams. But continuous opposition or downright non-compliance with your instructions can put employee safety, project success rate, or even your position with the company in danger. 

How To Handle a Team Mate Who Doesn’t Respect Your Authority 

You have two options to deal with someone undermining your authority at work: Either attack them or ask to collaborate with them. Instead of issuing direct orders to comply, ask for their input and ideas next time they challenge your decisions. Doing so can help the person feel more recognized and acknowledged for their ideas and then they may likely change their behavior. In the worst-case scenario, you can always revert to option one and threaten repercussions. 

The Contemptuous Type 

Instead of sending a polite email, a colleague sends an all-caps Slack message, demanding your immediate help. How rude! Disrespectful types don’t care for the general social courtesies and act as a jerks most of the time. That’s unless a manager forces them to give a public apology, but their mean streak continues once again.  

How to Stand Up to a Coworker Who Treats You With Disrespect?

In this recent book, Stanford professor Robert Sutton noted that:

When people are put in positions of power, they start talking more, taking what they want for themselves, ignoring what other people say or want, ignoring how less powerful people react to their behavior, acting more rudely, and generally treating any situation or person as a means for satisfying their own need

In other words: your senior colleagues or peers with a longer tenure may be naturally inclined to act rude. Your goal is to not let those behaviors become the norm. Approach the person privately, explaining exactly why and how their recent actions felt disrespectful. If they refuse to correct their behavior, document specific instances and report the issue to HR

The Know-It-All 

The know-it-all coworker always has an answer for everything. They’re an “expert” in every topic — from astronomy to Zoom etiquette. And they’re ready to over-share their acumen at every opportunity, be it a team meeting or a casual kitchen chat. Although your colleague may indeed be an expert, their advice always sounds condescending and they like to talk over or ignore other people’s contributions. 

How to Deal With A Know-It-All at Work 

Amy Gallo, author of the HBR Guide to Dealing with Conflict, recommends directing the know-it-all energy toward a more productive channel. Such types love making blanket statements because “they just know it’s true”. Respectfully disagree and ask them to look up more facts or evidence. For example, you can ask them to collect more data to back up their claims and present it to others before making a sweeping decision. This way, they get to do what they love — aka learn more things — while not pestering you. 

Final Thoughts 

Workplace relationships can be complex. But don’t let some “bad seeds” get on your nerves. It’s fine to physically avoid coworkers who are rude, disrespectful, condescending, or otherwise unpleasant to deal with. Don’t waste energy on them. Find your tribe and focus on fostering relationships with more enjoyable people! 


  • Elena ProkopetsElena Prokopets

    Elena runs content operations at Freesumes since 2017. She works closely with copywriters, designers, and invited career experts to ensure that all content meets our highest editorial standards. Up to date, she wrote over 200 career-related pieces around resume writing, career advice… more

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