No matter where you go, there will always be one person who seems determined to make you and everyone else miserable. At some point, you may clash with a coworker on a level that makes you seriously contemplate homicide. This article will give you helpful hints on how to manage a relationship with a difficult coworker without risking jail time.

I advocate handling as many issues as you can yourself before heading to management. You are an adult. You should be capable of approaching another adult with your complaints before approaching your boss. Unless the incident involves theft, violence, or something that significantly affects clients, make a sincere attempt to handle your issues yourself. These steps are designed to help you take initiative and try to solve your own problems (without overstepping your bounds) before approaching your superiors.

Since there are so many different strategies a creative cretin can devise to irritate you at work, I’ll separate their behaviors into subtypes.

1.) The Know-It-All

They know everything about everything and they’re not afraid to tell you how wrong you are—especially if clients are present.

Immediately bring The Know-It-All somewhere private, away from where clients can overhear your discussion. Let them know that while you commend their helpful attitude, you don’t require their intervention or input and you’d prefer it if they would step back and mind themselves.

If the Know-It-All persists, have another private conversation. This time, remind them of your prior conversation. Tell the Know-It-All that if they don’t stop, the next time you will be having the conversation in the presence of the salon owner and/or manager. Advise the Know-It-All to bring their complaints about your performance to the boss—never in front of the customers on the salon floor.

If this hasn’t worked, follow through and organize a meeting with your manager. Require the Know-It-All to be present. Explain that you’ve made two attempts to speak with the Know-It-All privately to get them to cease their insulting, disruptive, and unprofessional behaviors, but they have not. The manager should handle it from there.

If the behavior continues, as an absolute last resort, publicly correct the Know-It-All’s behavior if it happens again. Doing so may be considered unprofessional, but sometimes public shaming will be necessary. Simply saying, “We’ve already spoken about this. You do your job and I’ll do mine. Don’t interrupt my client’s appointment again, please,” should get the point across. Be sure to apologize to your client afterward for the interruption.

2.) The Backstabber

They’re sweet to your face but talking nastily about you in the back room.

These difficult coworkers can be incredibly hard to handle since they’re unlikely to stop, no matter what you or your employer do. Kill them with kindness and keep your personal life personal. Don’t give a Backstabber an excuse to run their mouth about you. Be nice and don’t disclose anything that they can twist into gossip.

If that doesn’t work, call them out.

In many cases, you’ll hear about the gossiping through other coworkers. Ask them if they’d be willing to sit down with the two of you. Tell the Backstabber that you’ve heard that they’ve been talking about you and you’d like to know why. At this point, you can quit being nice, since being nice got you nowhere to begin with. An adult professional should not require three warnings to behave like a mature employee. One should be sufficient.

This behavior often won’t stop without an official warning from a superior. So, if the Backstabber keeps it up, bring them to the boss. Have other employees willing to back you up if necessary. Tell the manager or owner that the Backstabber’s behavior has been disruptive and is creating a hostile work environment. Generally, owners take this behavior very seriously and will quickly terminate Backstabbers.

3.) The Shit Disturber

A higher order of Backstabber. These sociopaths are masters of manipulation. They thrive on drama and chaos, especially when they’re the ones responsible for creating it. This employee takes your favorite pair of shears and hides them in the desk of another employee—then tells you that the framed employee stole them from you. They sit back and watch the mayhem unfold gleefully.

Report it to your boss. You can’t handle this person yourself.

Teams of professional psychiatrists would have a hard time managing this type of coworker.

Don’t even attempt it. Make it your manager’s problem. A lot of the time, these people are very good at playing innocent (or worse, playing the victim). Fortunately, a good deal of experienced owners can see through that.

Approach your employer in private and tell them that the employee has been manipulative, malicious, and causing a host of issues between other employees for their own amusement. If the employee’s behavior has been affecting others in the salon, bring them to the meeting as well. Your boss will need to address the issue immediately. Shit Disturbers are most likely to stir up a mutiny.

If the Shit Disturber doesn’t get terminated (which they may not, especially if it’s the first time they’ve been caught), avoid them at all costs. Start bringing home and/or locking up your tools. Make sure all of your receipts are in a safe place at home. Keep digital copies of every receipt for every tool you have. Engrave your initials on your things, if possible. Coworkers like this love to retaliate, and they often do so by stealing and/or breaking things. Protect your stuff and avoid the nutcase.

4.) The Slob

Cut hair has been littering the floor around their chair for the last 2 hours. Their soiled towels don’t make it to the hamper, they just pile up on their station. They never clean their mirror and the tall stack of magazines sitting on their desk that they haven’t brought back to the lobby are about to avalanche all over the place.

Sloppy behavior doesn’t just affect you—it affects the salon as a whole.

Talking to the slob in private about the messes they leave should suffice. In no instance should you ever enable their lazy ass by cleaning up after them.

If the Slob doesn’t change their behavior, address it with the manager. You did your part by addressing it with them. They might be more inclined to listen when confronted by an authority figure.

5.) The Borrower

They “forgot” their shears, don’t have any clips, and always needs to borrow things from you—things that you need to perform your job duties.

Tell the Borrower that you’re happy to help her out when they’re in a pinch, but you purchased your tools for your use and many of them are quite expensive, and you need them. If they would like to buy equipment like yours, provide them with a list of the items you have, their prices, and information on where they can purchase them, but let the Borrower know that you’re done loaning things out.

You were kind enough to let them borrow things, but now it’s time for them to invest in their own career.

6.) The Client Thief

Nobody likes this person. They openly attempt to establish a relationship with your client. They may stoop so low as to degrade your services and offer lower prices to get clients out of your chair. While there are many tactics Client Thieves use, you have to protect yourself and your hard-earned clientele.

If you haven’t been doing so already, make sure that the quality of your work is such that your clients wouldn’t consider leaving you to begin with.

This person knows exactly what they’re doing, so confronting them about it yourself will be a fruitless endeavor in aggravation. Save yourself the frustration and approach the owner directly. Detail instances where the coworker has blatantly attempted to lure business from you. If clients have made complaints about the Client Thief’s behavior, bring that up as well. A good owner or manager will put a stop to the behavior immediately. Typically, salon owners consider poaching grounds for immediate dismissal.

7.) The “Manager”

They tell you what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. They reprimand you as well. Who does this coworker think they are? They think they’re your boss. They’re wrong.

Handle this firmly. Be very clear and leave no room for misinterpretation. Use constant eye contact and enunciate precisely to ensure you get your point across. A lot of “senior” employees think they have leverage over the newbies. They don’t. Let the “Manager” know that in private. Tell them, “As far as I can tell, you are not my superior here. If you have a problem with me or the way I do my job, keep it to yourself or bring it up with the owner. I am not your employee and you are not my boss. I don’t have to answer to you and you have no right to dictate to me or correct me. Do not do it again.”

If this handles the problem, great. If not, don’t bother with a second warning. Arrange a meeting between you, the problem employee, and the owner or manager.

Chances are that the actual people in charge won’t appreciate the “Manager’s” behavior any more than you do.

No matter what your situation, keep your emotions in check and don’t fly off the handle. To retain the moral high ground, your own behavior must remain professional and respectful. Remember that even the most infuriating coworker behaviors are, in the grand scheme of things, not worth getting angry or upset over. They’re most certainly not worth assaulting one another over, either (no matter how tempted we may be). Keep calm, be direct, and don’t let anyone turn the career your so passionate about into a miserable experience. We all have the right to be happy at work, so defend that right by speaking up to anyone who violates it.


If you can think of any subtypes I forgot to list or you want to add some of your own input to the article, comment below and I’ll be more than happy to make the edits!

8 COMMENTS

  1. Oh my… I worked in a spa years ago where my new boss was the shit disturber. She would constant pit others against each other. She would pull you in a meeting stating so and so said you were doing such and such (which you weren’t and so and so didn’t say anything) so you would confront so and so…. Ugh fights and lies. Then she made the receptions spies and would call hourly to see how much drama was stirred up. It took us months to figure it out. She’s still there, but half of us have left.

  2. What about stylists who make smarty remarks about how u present yourself or what you are capable of doing in ear shot. I keep running into stylists that try to talk shit in “code” trying to see if i understand (which i do, but don’t say anything so i don’t make them seem important) and when they conclude that i don’t understand the critique my clothes (black scrubs and long sleeve t everyday-my uniform); they critique my my styling ability, which they have yet to see (new at this location) pitting my styling ability against other senior stylists; Talking about me to the clients; i feel like i should be able to do more than keep quiet and do my job, not letting it bother me. But the truth is it annoys the hell out of me. Been dealing with this for about 3-4 years now with different stylists. Is this just a hater move poor can it be explained further

    • Oh lord, I have been you. Over and over and over again, I have been you. What you’re experiencing is a complete failure on behalf of your owner to set standards of conduct. What is and isn’t acceptable needs to be made clear and those rules need to be enforced.

      They’re trying to push you out, so I’m guessing your salon operates on a commission-only basis, isn’t particularly busy, and they’re intimidated by your abilities. Take it as a complement. If they want to conduct themselves like assholes, allow them to embarrass themselves. Adult professionals DO NOT behave that way in their work environment–not in private and certainly not in front of their clients. If they’re really driving you crazy, saying something to them about it will likely only make it worse, but if you must say something, I would pull them into the back and explain to them very rationally that you don’t appreciate their bullying. Clarify that you aren’t going anywhere. Nothing they say or do is going to convince you to leave your current position. You aren’t an amateur, you aren’t a schoolgirl, and their childish behavior isn’t acceptable and won’t be tolerated. They need to be acting like adults.

  3. Thank you for writing this! I thought there was something wrong with me as I’ve encountered this annoying behavior at several salons I’ve worked at since cosmetology school. It’s almost making me want to quit the industry, but I do like my clients and they like me. I appreciate the suggestions on how to deal with these sorts of situations.

  4. What about the chicken little co worker. Every day a new tragedy. The sky is falling, the sky is falling. An older woman in our salon is driving off her own clients with her negativity, yet she blames everyone and everything for this occurrence. Never happy, always upset by one thing or another. She singles people out to pick on and blame for whatever catastrophic event happened that day. Everyone feels tense. Because she is so slow, she doesn’t show up certain random days, and the shop feels…Happy. We can joke and laugh without her feelings getting hurt and she becomes”offended”. Exhausting.

    • Oh god, or the “fundraiser” employee who is damn near every day collecting donations for some cause or another. Marching band, Girl Scouts, animal shelters–there’s always some new crisis or cause she’s passionate about (usually because she’s watched some kind of documentary), so one week she’s anti-plastic, the next she’s anti-sugar, the next she’s anti-gluten–and she’s doing everything she can to recruit everyone else, lol.

  5. Hey Tina! I just got your book recently (read cover to cover this weekend!) and now am inhaling your blog. I’m not in the beauty industry, but in the pet grooming industry which has a lot of the same issues. One big difference is the lack of standards in education and training, there is no state or federal licensing programs for groomers to go through. I’m starting work at a large pet facility and the GM is bringing me in to help me raise the standards of their grooming dept. and to help the existing staff with training. The current groomer is very new and has little to no formal training, but unfortunately also has a know-it-all attitude, plus a new assistant/bather who also has little training (seems more open though). I know you’re consultation schedule is full, but do you have any advice for how I should approach the know-it-all? She is a big combative and has been getting complaints about her interactions with clients. She has natural talent for grooming, but I am trying to prevent WW3 when I start later this week. Thanks for any help!

    • I would tell her outright exactly what you told me. I’d tell her, “You’re talented and I think you could do well for yourself, but complaints are coming in and if your attitude continues, you likely won’t have a job much longer. You need to understand that you will never know it all, no matter how long you’ve been in this business. Things are always changing and always evolving, and there’s always something new to discover. Frankly, you aren’t as skilled or educated as you think you are and it’s my job to bring you up to the level management believes you need to be performing at. I’d love to do that, because again, I think you have potential, but I’m not going to waste my time on someone who won’t be employed here long enough to utilize the skills I’m teaching.”

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