Dealing with difficult people is one of the most challenging aspects of life, especially in a work setting.
So what do you do when faced with these types of co-workers? How can you best deal with their negativity and get along peacefully?
According to experts, here are the best strategies when it comes to dealing with difficult people at work.
Ask thoughtful questions and then listen to their answer
How you respond to difficult people at work can make or break your day and career.
Whether a colleague, a direct report or your boss, knowing how to respond thoughtfully is essential to your well-being and your professional advancement.
That said, it can be tricky to bite your tongue and not react when someone says or does something inappropriate.
- First, you’re allowed to be human. It’s understandable to be upset, annoyed, hurt, or angry.
- Second, choosing your words wisely will serve you well.
According to the researchers at TalentSmart®, 58% of job performance is determined by EQ [Emotional Intelligence]. This is the art and skill of dealing with your emotions and the emotions of others.
So let’s set you up for success with three back-pocket brilliant one-liners to respond intelligently and empathically.
Questions for a professionally inappropriate person
If a difficult person says or acts in a professionally inappropriate or challenging, ask: “How are you hoping I respond to this?“
This question places the onus of critical thinking back on them and holds them accountable for their choices.
If you’re not sure why someone is being difficult, the best way to communicate to connect is to ask them: “What’s the thought behind … [insert their difficult behavior]?“
Once we better understand what’s going on beneath the surface, choosing a response that moves the conversation forward more constructively makes it easier.
Question for a person who is clearly upset or agitated
When someone is clearly upset or agitated, it’s essential to validate their emotions first.
Too often, someone will say, “Calm down!” and it adds fuel to the fire. Not only are they upset, but now they feel dismissed and judged too.
The best response is to say: “You sound frustrated. [insert whatever emotion you perceive: angry, upset, etcetera] Do I hear you accurately? Are you frustrated?“
They will confirm or deny your stated emotion—and that’s the beauty of asking.
If they are frustrated, they’ll nod and say, “Yeah.” They will feel understood. If your assessment is inaccurate, because you opened the door to being wrong by asking them to corroborate your assessment or not, they will correct you, and they might say, “No, I’m angry!“
Great! Not great because they’re angry, but great because they shared a more accurate emotion that you can now help them talk through.
Once their correct state of being is identified, follow with:
- “Okay, tell me more…“ or
- “Okay, help me understand. What’s the thought behind the anger?“
Questions for a person in pain
Difficult people are difficult for a myriad of reasons. If that person is in internal pain [i.e., psychologically or emotionally hurting], a great question to ask is:
“That [outburst, remark, comment] wasn’t like you. Is there something going on I’m unaware of?”
They can choose to share or not. Do not push or pry. If they share, you can respond with appropriate support. If they say, “No,” you can follow up with the technique above to discern their emotion and then have them share the thought behind it.
Another terrific, empathic question to ask is: “What do you need most from me right now?“
Asked in a supportive tone, they will feel more seen and heard than perhaps they have in a while.
If they ask you for something you cannot deliver, simply respond: “I cannot do X, but here’s what I am willing to do…“
This response shows them that even though you may not be able to meet their specific request, you’re still aligned with them. You’re doing the best you can to listen, be supportive, help them solve their problem, and help them move forward more confidently.
Why you should avoid asking “why”
Note that in all three of the examples above, never once will you ask:
- Why did you say that?
- Why did you do that?
- What’s your problem?!
As soon as you make a difficult person feel defensive, it’s even more difficult to connect with them—and the connection is what you need first and foremost to ignite their behavioral change.
When you remind yourself that a difficult person is difficult for a reason, it changes the course of the conversation. Seek first to uncover this reason by asking thoughtful questions and then listening to their answer.
Even if you do not agree with or support their comments or actions, responding thoughtfully is the most effective and fastest path to getting better behaviors in the future.
First things first, let’s acknowledge that it is human behavior to yearn for community, love, acceptance, and belonging, especially from those we spend a lot of time around, like co-workers.
We want to enjoy:
- positive interactions,
- purposeful conversations,
- and easy-going relationships
that add value to our life experience.
However, it is normal to experience difficult circumstances and people, even at work. Remember, life is about 10% of what happens to us and 90% of how we respond.
So, learning how to deal with difficult people at work gives one competitive advantage and “a secret power” in life.
Avoid taking it personally
The truth is, some people are just difficult, and it has nothing to do with you.
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that almost one-quarter of U.S. adults experience “mood swings” at some point in their lives, and more than 16.1 million are affected by major depressive disorder.
So as the popular meme goes: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind.”
Although the experience of working with difficult people might be unpleasant, especially when you’re in frequent contact with the person at work, where the average American spends upwards of 28-40 waking hours per week, you should:
- Avoid taking it personally.
- Shine your light.
- Protect your magic.
Related: How to Not Take Things Personally
Drawing its meaning from Christian scriptures where a dove delivered this gift to Noah after 40 days and nights of rain, “extending an olive branch” refers to the act of:
- offering peace,
- or calm
as a way of bringing the conflict to a conclusion.
In practice, it may mean:
- Offering them a cup of coffee
- Inviting them to lunch
- Taking time to get to know the person
- their triggers
- work style
By showing concern for a co-worker, you affirm that they matter, they’re essential, and that may catalyze changes in their behavior.
Exercise empathy every day
As I said earlier, everyone’s fighting battles you know nothing about.
A few years ago, I was entering a jam-packed subway train in New York City when a hurried woman shoved her way through the crowd to squeeze inside the rapidly-closing doors, knocking me to the ground.
I’ll admit I was angry and embarrassed. She grimaced and then turned away without apology. Collecting myself, I couldn’t resist approaching her, seeking some explanation.
As she turned back my way, her eyes were filled with tears, and she said: “I’m so sorry…I didn’t realize I hit you; my son was just killed in a car accident, and I’m just trying to get to him.”
Without hesitation, I reached out, embraced a stranger, and we sobbed together like friends.
Work with the underlying issues that create the problem
Difficulties are not so much the issue—the cause is the issue.
Difficult people are by no means a new phenomenon. There are many methods for working with them, as opposed to dealing with someone.
The words we choose have an impact on the outcome of our actions. The focus is appropriately on the reasons people become difficult.
In the workplace, personality is not as critical a component of organizational success as professionalism is.
There are a few significant variables to consider. They are:
- Spill-Over Effect
People become difficult for a reason. So, therefore the key is not to deal with them but work with the underlying issues that create the problem.
Please consider the following: Variables + Circumstances = Behavior
Motivation for a difficult person is about what sets them off
Most often, people are difficult because they feel they are not valued sufficiently in the organization or feel they have been slighted in some way.
How often do personnel changes or policy changes occur that are unilateral by management? Humans are reactive animals with the capacity to be proactive if asked to be.
You mitigate negative motivation issues through engagement, however and whenever possible. The more inclusive the organization can be, the less reason to push back by being difficult. As I’ve said a million times, “change the environment, change the behavior.“
Do not quickly send them off for supervisory intervention
Is a person being difficult without justification? Well, it is possible but not too likely—one common element is spill-over. In simple terms, the things that get you stressed, angry, or depressed at work spill over to your home life.
The reverse is at the point for the question of being difficult at work. All the pressures and responsibilities found in the home or personal life are brought to work.
Reacting to that environment, people can easily be short-tempered, moody, and, in short, become difficult. Not necessarily your fault or theirs.
If you suspect this is the case, please do not quickly send them off to the personnel office, a counselor, or for some supervisory intervention.
Remember, change the environment? Have the difficult person go for an early lunch with a few co-workers that they have usually hung around with before.
Call it a department reward for being great people or whatever excuse can work. Allow the difficult person to take the afternoon off. In other words, remove the motivation for being difficult.
Then the next day, ask someone to sit with them and try to draw out what has been distracting or upsetting them.
By the way, if you cannot afford to have someone out for an afternoon or a day—your business has some serious staff structure issues that need to be addressed.
Knowledge is power, right, and if you know what causes someone to be difficult, you are more able to address the motivating factors and reduce or eliminate them.
Consider their personalities
Finally, all people are individuals with their own personalities. However, personality is not the most significant factor in the functioning of an organization.
Picture a pie chart divided into four areas. The four values of professionalism are:
- Personality (the last and smallest aspect of professionalism)
When you shift focus away from how difficult their personality may be and remain focused on the first three elements of professionalism, then people feel they are seen for what they can do and can be.
Founder, Boston Turner Group
It’s crucial to realize that it is highly improbable that anything you do will change the behavior of a difficult person one way or the other.
You cannot spontaneously coax honesty from a dishonest person nor inspire optimism in an Eeyore. More importantly, nothing you have done or will do has prompted the other person’s bad behavior either, so it doesn’t help to blame yourself.
All you can do is prepare to respond to the person as you would any other inconvenience in your life.
When you work with a difficult co-worker, the weather forecast shows rain, so you should bring your umbrella. You definitely aren’t trying to win these people over as friends; you’re just trying to mitigate the problems.
Here are some of my favorite tips for dealing with difficult people:
Minimize the time you spend with them, especially in conversations
Emails help you keep things distant and unemotional. You may not be able to avoid seeing them in meetings, but you don’t have to schedule one with them yourself when an email would suffice.
If you bump into them in the hallway, quickly make an excuse that you’re late for a call.
Stick to basic facts
Try to respond unemotionally. Many difficult people want to insert their own interpretations of events that make things seem more heated than they actually are.
If they ask, “why are you ignoring my emails,” don’t try to defend whether or not you are ignoring them because nothing you argue will land with them.
They just want a fight. Instead, respond with a fact, “I’m waiting for clarification from the home office and don’t want to waste your time until I have a clear answer.”
Move the focus to them whenever possible
It’s hard to be the target of a difficult person if you keep the aim on them. Ask them questions to keep it moving back to them, such as, “how did that make you feel,” or, “what is the most important next step you need to finish?”
It’s amazing how diffusive a question like, “are you doing OK?” can be even in the most adversarial meetings.
Be an objective observer
I used to run an educational center, and invariably students would come in to complain about something because they felt a high degree of pressure to succeed.
Instead of taking anything personally, I would pretend I was watching a character in a movie.
By forcing myself to be an objective observer and refusing to take anything personally, I would inevitably find their rants and meltdowns interesting or even entertaining.
Avoid sensitive issues
These are not the people you want to talk to about politics, religion, or how the new CEO dresses.
Show them that compassion and kindness can create a safe island for them
I’ve learned to feel sorry for most difficult people. Something probably hurt them early on to make them so clueless about other people’s feelings and want to cultivate chaos around them.
None of their terrible behavior is about you, and none of it may be about them either.
Showing compassion and kindness can create a safe island for them they don’t have anywhere else, which may shield you from their outbursts in the future.
Have a friend you can share stories with
At the very least, your interactions with difficult people can give you some great stories to share with someone who has experienced that same person.
Many great coffee breaks have started with, “you won’t believe what Harry said to me this morning.” Don’t turn it into a gripe session or gossip.
But being able to share the difficult interaction in a story allows you to:
- Gain some objectivity
- See the humor in the situation
- Get some emotional support from a friend
Robin Rosenberg, Ph.D.
Psychologist | CEO and Founder, Live in Their World
Let the person know the impacts and ask for clarification
When we encounter “difficult” people at work, that typically means they are either actively aggressive in some way, such as making hurtful, snide comments that indicate contempt toward you or a colleague, customer, or business partner.
Contempt and its effect
Contempt can be expressed verbally, such as “you are _______,” where the thought is completed with something negative about the person, such as:
- a jerk,
- too sensitive,
- or insensitive
rather than disagreeing about a viewpoint.
Contempt can be expressed nonverbally by a sneer, literally turning away, or ignoring the person. Such actions can create “cuts” that never heal. Even witnessing it happen to others can make us feel dirty or complicit.
What do you say or do if a co-worker crosses that line?
Let the person know how it impacts you
Let the person know how it impacts you (and why) and if that impact what they intended. If not, ask them to clarify what they meant to say.
It can also be helpful to ask them if they understand how it impacted you the way it did—to have a window into their capacity to see things from another person’s point of view.
It may be necessary to talk about topics that the two of you are best off not discussing going forward.
How do you handle cultural clashes or miscommunication in conversation?
Take more care in the language you use with each other
Sometimes the difficult person may behave in these ways unintentionally—because it’s either a miscommunication or because they have different cultural norms of acceptable behavior in the workplace.
When this might be the case, what you do is the same as in the previous paragraph:
- Let the person know how you interpreted what they said
- Why it impacted you negatively
- Ask for clarification
It may be best if the two of you take more care in the language you use with each other to avoid miscommunications or clashes going forward.
As the two of you discover how the clash or miscommunication happened and how to address it, you can learn from each other and increase trust in each other.
When and how should you elevate persistent problems with a co-worker’s comments?
Take note of the comments, conversations, and dates
It would be appropriate to elevate things when, despite persistent conversations about why you continue to be negatively affected by things the co-worker says and does not appear to be open to being respectful to you.
Before elevating things, though, it’s a good idea to document:
- the types of comments,
- the conversations you’ve had with that co-worker (to no avail, apparently),
- and the dates to demonstrate the frequency of the comments.
How can you turn awkward conversations around to maintain office harmony and respect?
Respectfully respond even if you feel disrespected
View the situation as a learning opportunity, and invite the other person to do the same. How you can learn from each other how to communicate better, or if the conversation is about a difference of opinions, agree to disagree.
More than a year ago, your team was chosen to work remotely. And after the initial adjustment, you enjoyed the novelty of working from home. The peace and quiet; you were really productive.
Fast forward to today, your organization has gone hybrid, and you’re working in the office again—resurrecting an old dilemma: How to work with a difficult co-worker?
Understand your differences and learn how to work with it
Strange as it may seem, difficult people simply have personalities and work styles that are very different from ours.
There’s little interpersonal chemistry, and unless we understand our differences and learn how to work with differences, those differences can affect the quality of our collaborations. Teamwork will suffer.
Here are some examples of common differences:
- Slow-talkers may find a fast-talker mentally overwhelming and thus difficult to work with.
- A big-picture type person may discover the detail-oriented person bothersome with “unnecessary questions.”
- One co-worker may opt to go by the rules while a teammate finds satisfaction in improvising. At home, this difference may spark debates about “whether a table knife is an acceptable stand-in for a flat-head screwdriver.”
Keep in mind that well-managed diversity of points of view can broaden the team’s depth and scope of knowledge and strengthen teamwork and problem-solving.
What can you do? Ask yourself these questions. Use your answers to guide your professional development:
- Do I have an issue with what they said, or is it how they said it? Can I overlook the communication process and focus on the content of the message?
- Does it bother everyone, or just me? Who gets along well with this person, and why? What negative issue am I bringing to the situation? What skills do I need to strengthen?
- What is this person trying to accomplish? How can I help? Can I learn a new active listening skill to focus on what’s important and not and take complex communications personally?
Finally, when the situation is over, review your performance and then find some humor in what occurred to reduce your stress.
Kristin Heller, PHR
Leadership Coach | HR consultant, HR Creative Consulting
Learn to have tough conversations
When dealing with difficult people, leaders and coworkers must first learn to have tough conversations. Learning to talk with each other is key to building successful professional and personal relationships.
Related: Building Strong Work Relationships
The ability to say to someone that their actions or behaviors are bothersome is the only way to bring attention to the issue. While some know they can be challenging, others may be unaware of how their behaviors impact others.
Either way, they must first become aware—the conversation does not need to be confrontational. It must be honest but not aggressive.
Prepare for the conversation
Carefully consider what you want to say:
- Say in a way that allows the offender to think about how they behave.
- Let them know up front that you want to make things better, not anger them.
Often, a candid conversation will help work through the issues. Explain to them how they make you feel. Explain your goal in the workplace—it may be to come to work, do your job and do it without constant negativity.
Try to resolve the issue before taking it to your superiors
There are cases when it is tough or even impossible to get to a resolution. Some simply do not want to work together.
We owe it to ourselves and the relationship to try. It is important to try to resolve the issue before taking it to your superiors. Give your coworker the benefit of the doubt. Allow them to make things right.
CEO and Co-Founder, Qooper Mentoring & Learning Software
A difficult coworker can be disruptive and uncooperative in the office. They may:
- Talk back to management
- Refuse to do assigned tasks
- Constantly complain about their job
Difficult coworkers can make the workday miserable for everyone around them because they constantly disrupt the workflow—making it difficult to get anything done.
If you have a difficult coworker, there are a few things you can do to minimize the negative impact on your productivity:
Speak to your supervisor or HR department
If the difficult coworker disrupts the work environment and impacts your productivity, speak to your supervisor or HR department about the situation. They may be able to intervene and help address the issue.
Try to have a conversation with them
Sometimes, simply talking to someone can help them understand why their behavior is causing problems, which could be the first step to finding a resolution.
You can ask them for coffee or lunch and try to open up a dialogue in a non-confrontational way.
Be straightforward and make sure that they understand your limits
Suppose a difficult coworker is still constantly trying to pull you into arguments or unwanted conversations despite you raising your concerns to them. In that case, it may be necessary to set some boundaries.
You need to be firm and straightforward with them and make sure that they understand your limits—that you’re not interested in engaging and would like to focus on your work.
Avoid them as much as possible
If all else fails, the best solution may be to avoid them as much as possible. This means:
- Not engaging in conversations with them
- Not working on projects with them
- Generally just trying to stay out of their way
While it’s not the ideal solution, sometimes it’s necessary to protect your productivity.
Keep the conversation about them and don’t respond to the emotional discharge
Passive-aggressive behavior is commonplace at work. It can express itself through the following behaviors:
- Overly accommodating
- Playing victim
- Toxic positivity
- Shifting blame and responsibility to others
- Back-handed comments and non-responsiveness
While it’s best to leave the diagnosing of clinical conditions up to professionals, there are some things you can do when confronted with someone who consistently shows passive-aggressive behaviors.
The most important thing you can do is to be yourself.
Passive aggressiveness is a psychological defense mechanism. Most of the time, your coworker won’t know they are passive-aggressive.
Subconsciously they are looking for someone to “engage” their aggression by getting a partner to participate in the dance of self-manipulation because the aggression is subconsciously repressed, and they need to work it out.
Be present but detached
Refuse to dance; Consolation will only feed the behavior. If you have to engage, reframe the conversation.
Start by listening and asking questions but don’t respond—only inquire, then move into work topics. The key is to be present but detached.
You send a message by keeping the conversation about them and not responding to the emotional discharge. End the conversation by finishing with, “do you need me to do anything?”
The “do” question helps establish boundaries while developing a cleaner model for the relationship.
Lee Cristina Beaser, CPRW
Career Coach and Founder, The Career Counter
Communicate your feelings in a diplomatic manner
For example, rather than saying, “you are upsetting me,” try something like, “I feel frustrated when you cut me off in meetings.“
Take ownership of your behavior
What are you doing to contribute (either negatively or positively) to the situation? Always remember that it takes two people to have a disagreement.
Seek out support if needed
Talk to your supervisor or HR department if you feel your co-workers’ behavior is inappropriate. Write down the incidents when they happen, so you have documentation.
A trusted mentor can also be a great sounding board about ideas on how to communicate with your co-worker positively.
Figure out what you can change
For example, if you just don’t like the person, recognize this and accept that there’s only so much you can try to change about the situation.
Try to keep a positive attitude
Sometimes we unconsciously get in a negative head space. Write down several things you like about your co-worker.
By shifting your focus from negative to positive, you can approach your colleague from a more empathetic place.
Chief Marketing Officer, ProofHub
Dealing with difficult people at work can be one of the most difficult aspects of your job. Whether it’s a colleague who won’t stop talking about themselves or a manager who acts like they know everything, dealing with difficult people at work can be draining and frustrating.
These tips will help you deal with difficult people at work in a way that helps the situation rather than making it worse.
Put yourself in another person’s shoes
Understanding your motivations is key to being able to deal with difficult people. If you don’t know how and why you react to others, then you can’t make sense of their behavior.
When you can put yourself in another person’s shoes, it becomes easier to set clear goals and keep your emotions in check. The more information we have about our own behavior, the better equipped we are to control it.
Try to understand the other person’s motivations
Before you can deal with someone, you need to understand them.
Sometimes, difficult people are people who have a different way of seeing the world. Other times, though, they’re jerks and deserve to be banished from your life forever.
In any case, it’s helpful to get in their head—if only so that you can better avoid them the next time around.
If you’re dealing with someone who only seems rude or mean because they don’t know what they’re doing wrong (or if they don’t care), then some kind words or even a few training sessions may do wonders for their attitude change.
But if this person is totally oblivious and full of themselves, well, you’ll probably want to let them go on their merry way until such a point as it becomes more convenient not to work with them anymore than necessary.
Define your goals and ensure that they align with the person you’re dealing with
Your goals are not the same as your colleague’s. You have something to gain, but they have something to lose. It’s crucial that you clearly define your goals and ensure that they align with those of the person you’re dealing with.
For example, if your goal is to get everyone in a department oriented on their new project by Friday, you’ll want to find out whether or not this goal is achievable without compromising any other tasks or responsibilities on their plate.
If it isn’t achievable without doing so, then they may need some convincing that this task is worth prioritizing over another one—or perhaps even cutting from the schedule entirely (if there’s no room for compromise).
On the flip side, let’s say your manager wants everyone in a department oriented on their new project by Friday. But everyone knows this won’t be possible because one employee has another big project coming up next week that precedes orientation training.
She’d probably still ask him if he has time after orientation is done before moving forward with her own plans (which will inevitably impact yours).
Don’t let one bad interaction ruin everything
You may have been in a situation where you were working with someone difficult to deal with. If it’s not a one-off, then it could be a recurring issue.
If this is the case, then here are some tips to help you through it:
- Don’t let them take over your entire day. Don’t let one bad interaction ruin everything. Just because one person is difficult doesn’t mean everyone else will be that way too.
- Don’t let one bad interaction ruin your week, month, or year! You don’t need to worry about these people all the time; they aren’t worth it! Keep focused on what’s important, and don’t let negative thoughts take over your mind space.
Related: How to Get Rid of Negative Thoughts?
Avoid unhelpful rhetorical questions
Rhetorical questions are those that don’t require an answer. They’re used to get people to think about a point of view or agree with it.
That doesn’t mean they have no place in constructive conversations—it’s vital for everyone involved to understand each other’s perspectives, especially when talking about sensitive topics like the work environment—but be cautious about how you use them.
Unless you are confident in your ability to make someone feel small on purpose (and even then, maybe not), avoid asking anything that sounds like this: “Didn’t you hear me? I just said…“
Treat each interaction as a new opportunity to resolve the conflict
When dealing with difficult people, it’s important to keep a cool head. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you, and don’t ignore the problem when it happens.
Instead, try understanding why this person is behaving irrationally or against your interests.
Don’t ignore what’s happening
When dealing with a difficult person, it can be tempting to ignore what is happening—you may be tempted to pretend that it isn’t happening or doesn’t bother you.
This is not the way to deal with a difficult person at work.
If someone is making your life miserable at work, don’t ignore them. Don’t pretend they aren’t there or that things are different than they really are.
Just because someone else doesn’t think they’re bothering anyone doesn’t mean they’re not bugging people—it just means those people haven’t said anything yet.
Trusted Advisor and Executive Coach
Approach the situation with love
One of the best ways to deal with a difficult co-worker is to approach the situation with love.
When we think about love, we often think about romantic love or our love for our families. But what about the love we have for our co-workers?
Showing love in the workplace can be a powerful tool, especially when dealing with a difficult co-worker. Instead of approaching the situation with negative energy, try coming from a place of service and compassion.
- What can you do to help this person achieve their goals?
- How can you add value to their life?
When you approach difficult situations with love, you may find that the problem resolves itself much more quickly—and with much less stress.
Love is in the toolbox of items that all high-level conscious leaders utilize to create massive success.
Helping someone else makes you feel good. You will feel accomplished and fulfilled. Plus, your co-worker will likely appreciate your positive attitude and be more motivated to work with you in the future.
So next time you’re faced with a difficult co-worker, remember: love is the answer.
Recruiter | Leader, USScrapYard
Approach your employee with tact
People who are difficult to work with definitely exist. Regardless of the industry, there is no workplace without them. Depending on your self-esteem, self-confidence, and professional courage, you may find a person tough to deal with.
With the sort of tough person and the situation, dealing with them can either be easy or complicated for you.
Be nice to them
If you notice things becoming sour without any responses, let them know how others feel. Approach your employee with tact and make it obvious that you disapprove of how they treat you.
Keep your questions to yourself, and don’t storm into your workplace. Instead, have a private chat about it. When talking to them, do your best to keep your emotions in check.
Tell them exactly what they’re doing and how it’s making you feel so they can stop it. When conversing with another person, being charming and agreeable is also critical.
They may not be aware of the impact their words or actions have on you, and they may be willing to accept responsibility for their actions. Some people may reject this or try to explain your concerns.
To maintain a sense of equilibrium, you should endeavor to agree on future positive and helpful acts. Let them know what’s going on.
A follow-up conversation may be necessary
Decide whether or not:
- It will affect your image
- You want to keep going up against the problematic person
- You want to continue to deal with the irritant
Do your best to find out whether your coworkers are genuinely in distress.
If you’re still looking for a solution, arrange another meeting. If this is the case, then consider sending them a warning letter as an alternative.
If they don’t respond to your warnings; fire the person
If they don’t respond to your warnings and come to you directly, terminate them by reminding them that their behavior is affecting the workplace’s productivity.
While handling a company with several employees, there have been numerous occasions when we have to handle people with different personalities. Here are a few tips which I use frequently.
Recognize the person’s motives
I like to think that no one tries to be tough just to be unpleasant. Even if it appears that the individual is just trying to trouble you, there will always be an ulterior motive for their behavior.
Let them know about your objectives
One approach that has helped me is letting others know whatever my objectives are. They may be resistive if they believe you are being unreasonable with them.
Allowing them to understand the motivation underlying your acts and the complete context of what is going on can help them sympathize with your predicament. This makes it much easier for them to bring people on board.
Only interact with the individual when necessary
If you’ve done everything else and the individual still isn’t interested, the best thing you can do is ignore them. After all, you’ve already done all within your power.
Focus on your everyday responsibilities and only interact with the individual when necessary.
Find out what other people think
I prefer conversing with my more senior pals, who have undoubtedly had similar circumstances in the past.
They’ll be able to look at things from a new perspective and provide a fresh perspective on the scenario.
- Go out of your way to find them
- Tell them your narrative
- Hear what they have to offer
You can come across some wise words in the thick of the chat.
Community Manager, MyPerfectResume
Show that you’re open to feedback and try to see the good intentions
Difficult coworkers often spread negativity in the workplace and destroy the team’s atmosphere. Their adversity might lead to a toxic work environment that negatively impacts employees’ job satisfaction and general well-being.
However, it’s important to remember that our colleagues’ negative reactions, in most cases, have nothing to do with us. The truth is that such people often struggle in different areas of their lives not related to us.
Although people typically try to avoid bringing their problems to work, we are just human beings that sometimes struggle and can’t keep everything under control.
To improve your collaboration with a problematic coworker, you should focus on specific things that don’t work in your communication. Show your colleague that you’re open to feedback and try to see the good intentions even behind negative comments.
If that doesn’t help, remind your colleague that you’re working on the same goal and want to make your teamwork as effective as possible.
Related: 30+ Real Life Examples of Teamwork
This approach to difficult people at work will help you improve your relationship and create a more enjoyable work environment for you and your colleagues.
Mary Alice Pizana
Human Resources Manager, Herrman and Herrman PLLC
Dealing with difficult people at work is exactly what it sounds like, difficult. At our company, we have developed a process we recommend for anyone having a hard time with their coworkers.
Acknowledge your own bias
If you seem to have issues with a particular team member continuously, take a moment to acknowledge your own bias to confirm your bias is not causing the conflicts.
Sometimes there are unresolved issues in people’s personal lives coming into work and unknowingly causing issues.
Communicate the issue
If there is still conflict after confronting your own bias, it is time to communicate with each other about what is causing the difficulties.
Remember, the objective of the conversation is to discuss the issue and solve the problem, not to make points for your argument. Any gossip or opinions are detrimental to the discussion and the work environment.
Speak with management
If all else fails, it is time to speak with management. Some conflicts are easier to solve with a trusted mediator to call out who is in the wrong and find where there are misunderstandings.
This option should be seen as a last resort or a result of any harassment or inappropriate behavior.
Community Manager, MyPerfectResume
Adopt a negotiating attitude to mitigate conflicts and misbehavior
To make dealing with difficult people at work more manageable, keep calm and don’t escalate the situation. Adopt a negotiating attitude to mitigate conflicts and misbehavior of your difficult co-worker and cool down their eagerness to discuss.
Act like a professional negotiator, someone you have seen many times in movies and TV shows. Don’t give a difficult person an excuse to show their difficult character.
Look toward integrative strategies like searching for similarities or zones or possible agreement. And never hesitate to politely but firmly inform a co-worker of their improper behavior.
It’s like with children, never let them walk over you.
Position yourself as a partner at work, a person in the same position who should be respected and whose opinion counts. Remember that sometimes it’s worth letting go. Engaging in pointless discussions or putting pressure on people to change will do no good.
Your goal is to work out a positive culture where co-workers note that they need to work on improving some of their behaviors.
Sports and Performance Psychologist
Self-reflect; see if you are falling short somewhere
For example, if you feel that everyone is too demanding or detail-oriented, then perhaps, you are lacking in those areas. Be honest with yourself to see if you are falling short somewhere.
This is easier said than done as work is stressful enough without difficult people. The only chance you have to diffuse difficult people is with a calm demeanor.
Their “difficult level” will likely become more out of control if you escalate your emotions when engaging with them.
Try to engage on a personal level
Whether the issue is with one or more people, you need to attempt to meet with each one individually for coffee or lunch.
We are accustomed to emails and other technology such as zoom or Slack, text, etc., and we rarely get to know people on a deeper level.
Sitting with someone and understanding more about them can foster empathy and kinship that will likely lead to a more productive and easier working relationship.
Ignore if possible
If you don’t have work directly or for this person, do your best to stay out of their way. With more people working remotely, this is more feasible than ever before.
Human nature is that most of us want to be liked and get along with everyone; however, this is not always possible.
HR Director, Test Prep Insight
Be nice — compliment them and engage
Whenever someone asks me how to interact with a difficult coworker and reduce friction, I always use the classic saying, “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” In other words, be nice.
- overbearing manner,
- or general toxicity
will only cause things to spiral into a worse situation.
So no matter how difficult it might be on the inside, play nice outwardly. Compliment them and engage.
Get to know your coworker
In fact, try to get to know your coworker a little bit. Often, colleagues labeled as “difficult to work with” are just misunderstood.
They may have a different manner of working or even different cultural customs that others interpret as rude (when they aren’t).
Taking the time to get to know your coworker and playing nice with them can only improve the situation. If you do the opposite and return the negativity, it’s only going to worsen things.
Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, MS, LCPC
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor | Co-founder, The Marriage Restoration Project
Improving communication skills will allow everything else to improve
Dealing with difficult people is a fact of life. When it occurs in the workplace, it impacts productivity and job happiness.
We have found that psychological safety is the key to changing the dynamic and equipping managers and employees with skills to create a better work environment.
Understanding how the brain works and how it performs under stress is crucial. When people feel threatened, they can become:
- Verbally abusive
Improving communication skills is the priority as that will allow everything else to improve. When people have a voice, the environment changes, and productivity goes up.
- Being mindful of triggers in terms of how you communicate can create a different response.
- Learning how to listen more intentionally can also change the receiving end’s dynamic.
- If you work on your own reactivity and allow the difficult person to feel truly heard, they will likely soften up and become easier to deal with.
- Instead of labeling people, realize it is a state of being and that if you can change the state, the relationship can change.
We teach workplaces a very structured process through which they can communicate, both sharing and listening, so both people feel:
- and safe.
When everyone feels safe, they show up with their best selves, and there are:
- more teamwork,
- more innovation,
- and a more successful company.
Clinical Director, ChoicePoint
Don’t value their cheap tricks
It is very natural to get triggered when someone is doing wrong with you. But you have to keep calm at any cost and don’t value their cheap tricks.
Be aware of their intentions
If someone is rude to you at your workplace, it might be possible that they are jealous of your work or your success.
Related: How to Deal With Jealous People
They want to take the worst version of you in front of the boss, but you have to be aware of their intentions and be the best version of yourself in every situation at your work.
Let your management know
Try to convey the bad situation to your higher management authority and get their support. But only when the need arises.
Find another job and leave the current one
If the situation is getting harder for you to survive and nothing really works, simply find another job and leave that one.
Don’t compromise your respect, credibility, and mental health for some pennies. Value your skills and your self-confidence.
Always be civil — maintain a professional demeanor at all times
When bringing up what bothers you in the workplace or any issue, you may have with a colleague, the rule of thumb is to always be civil.
Maintaining a professional demeanor at all times, regardless of how you feel, is critical because any negative feelings you may have is manageable.
A formal grievance record you would incur for behaving unprofessionally just to resolve an issue with a colleague, however, will impede your opportunities for career advancement.
Recognizing that everyone is his own individual will make dealing with difficult co-workers easier. Know that you can never control what others will do, so just focus on controlling your own emotions and keeping them from getting the better of you.
Always try and minimize issues by expressing to your colleague how you feel without sounding accusatory or cruel.
You elevate your concerns with HR only in worst-case scenarios, but even then, you must have first discussed your problems with the co-worker in question out of respect.
Founder and President, SalesAmp
Be a peacemaker
First, we teach peacemaking at the agency to help us all navigate difficult situations—this can help you determine if it is just a challenging situation or if you are dealing with a difficult person.
Peacemaking teaches that there are three ways to deal with conflict:
- Escaping/avoiding the conflict
- Attacking those you are in conflict
- Being a peacemaker
We are always encouraging the peacemaker route.
The peacemaking process has several steps, but the ones that can help you the most to determine whether you have a difficult person are:
Go to higher ground—rise above the situation
Is someone willing to rise above the situation and have a desire to honor those they are in conflict with?
Get real about yourself first
This is another great lens to use as you see how people deal with the inevitable conflicts at work.
The premise is everyone has a part to play in a conflict; for some, it may be just a small part, but it is still a part.
The goal is that you will own your piece 100% and not start the conversation by pointing out everyone else’s faults. If you have team members who can do this—it instantly diffuses the tension and allows you to start moving towards reconciliation.
An example of this is how we do our project debriefs. Debriefs always start with what we did well and what we could have done better.
After everyone has a chance to speak—then, and only then, do we ask if anything wasn’t covered. 99% of the time, everyone owned their part, and we were able to move on to solutions.
Accept responsibility and make an effective apology
We all make mistakes at work—in what we do or say. What happens next is when you get to see if you are dealing with a difficult person.
Ideally, everyone can accept responsibility for what they did and make an effective apology.
Here are the seven steps we all learn in peacemaking for an effective apology:
- Address everyone that was involved.
- Avoid ifs and butts – they ruin the apology.
- Admit specifically what you did.
- Acknowledge the hurt.
- Accept the consequences.
- Alter your behavior
- Ask for forgiveness
When you have a team living by these, it is a game-changer, and it is very easy to see an outlier who is not willing to comply and is clearly more of a difficult person than a difficult situation.
Give everyone a clear idea of what we expect from ourselves and our team
Second, we work hard to ensure we have the “right people on the bus” and the “right people in the right seats.” These help us ensure we give everyone a clear idea of what we expect from ourselves and our team.
Right people on the bus
The key to doing this is establishing core values that are non-negotiable.
Core values are the cornerstone of our culture. They embody who we are as a company. When we established our core values, we knew they needed to be what we believed were non-negotiables—meaning if someone is a core value violator, we will let them go.
We use a tool called The People Analyzer to rank our team members quarterly to assess if their core value fits for our company or, another way to say it—if they are the “right people on the bus.”
People in the right seats on the bus
The next thing we evaluate for those we know are the right people on the bus is— are they in the right seats.
You are often lucky enough to have hired a great team player—a 100% culture fit, but they are not thriving in the seat you have them in. We then allow them to try other seats, which is often all it took.
If someone is in the wrong seat, they can sometimes feel difficult because they are unhappy and not thriving. But once you get them in the right seat, they can become a true blessing to all those around them.
We spend so much time with our work family that we have to do all we can to ensure we protect ourselves and our teammates from difficult people.
I have found over the years that sometimes, with the suggestions I have outlined, people can do a 180. But sometimes they can’t—and that’s ok.
The best thing for them and your team is to let them move on to what is next.
Dr. Austin Dowse
I’m in the same situation at the moment. Since I’m new, people have always intimidated me.
I’ve been through many changes in jobs before—these tough co-employees have been:
- manipulative or bullied,
- and dominated me in every position.
I am an introvert. Gentle, soft-hearted, and soft-spoken, I allowed myself to be emotionally harmed by these experiences at work. It’s always exhausting and frustrating dealing with co-workers like this.
Develop assertiveness at work to lessen the pain of others
Throughout my eight years of working history, I’ve had the privilege of allowing myself to be victimized by my co-workers due to my good nature and upbringing.
My parents instructed me to be respectful and peaceful and not be in conflict with other people. Today, I am trying to develop assertiveness at work to lessen the pain of others.
My current co-worker is an OCD person by nature. She is a perfectionist who likes to be in control of everything and is also very aggressive.
In nearly every job and decision I make, she’s extremely critical and dislikes things that are not completed in her manner, even though I’m the primary person in charge of my job.
Trust your own judgment and be in control
They cannot alter their thoughts, so you have to either ignore them or limit their interactions. Better not even bother asking them questions or seek their opinion or suggestions.
You can trust your own judgment, not the opinions of others. You are the only one who has control over your work and not trying to control your work.
Be in control and inform them immediately if you disagree with their views. They may not be the only ones to be taken seriously, and if it seems odd and you are not sure, go about it your way and don’t allow them to influence you to do the way they believe is best.
If they request you to do stupid and meaningless actions that you don’t think have any logic, simply refuse the request by expressing your concerns, and should they remain insistent, then speak up and ignore or show unhappiness.
It’s always a challenge and requires careful handling of the path to ensure not to cause harm to relationships.
There is no way to know whether you’ll need their help, so not being overly aggressive with them is not a good idea, of course. If possible, you should offer assistance to them and be supportive even if you dislike the person.
You should also attempt to put yourself into their shoes to comprehend the situation and why they might be harmful and controlling of you.
Related: How to Deal with Controlling People?
Director of Operations, Mywoodrings
As we all already know, sitting in a workplace is unpleasant, and being in a space with colleagues whom you don’t like is a lot more challenging.
How you handle difficult colleagues varies based on the situation. In that regard, here are some timeless strategies I’ve employed with some results in the past:
Understand that your problematic co-workers’ attitude toward you isn’t personal
I’ve noticed that the majority of my co-workers I’ve had a problem dealing with over the years (surly responses and snappy, uncooperative) were the ones that the majority of us in the office have had the same issues with.
Understanding that your problematic co-workers’ attitude toward you isn’t personal can take some of the pain out. Take the negative or difficult comments with some caution.
Spread the occasional olive branch
Sometimes, a co-worker who appears difficult and unlikable might just be shy. Do not be afraid to be the bigger person and spread an olive branch:
- Invite the person to a meal or coffee.
- Try to get to meet him, and inquire about him.
While these overtures may not always perform, when they succeed, the outcomes when they do work are amazing.
In retrospect, colleagues who initially seemed hostile and cold are still the individuals I contacted years and months later.
Keep your distance from rage and drama
If you feel a conflicting co-worker becoming heated, remain at a distance and keep your distance from the rage and drama.
A shouting match is never enjoyable, and nobody wins. If a disagreement between colleagues escalates, get out of the way. Make arrangements for a second time to talk when everyone is calm.
Find a mentor
Finding supportive co-workers, especially those at the top management level, is a great aid in navigating difficult workplace relationships and office policies.
Remember that work doesn’t have to be all that is
There’s a reason the rants of co-workers are so commonplace. Working with a diverse range of personalities within close physical spaces can be extremely difficult, and it’s nearly impossible to get to know all your colleagues (and the reverse is true).
It’s not difficult thinking that when you’re unable to work with your co-workers, you’re unable to work with them. This is definitely not the case. You’re busy outside of your work, and your difficult colleagues are just a tiny piece of the pie.
You might want to talk to your manager
Consider it. In some instances (actually in many cases), telling a boss could actually make the situation worse.
If you’ve got an employer who is supportive of your work and is there for you, confiding your concerns to them could bring more assistance.
Explore alternative possibilities
If you’re in a position where your colleagues exhibit unprofessional behavior or conduct that can’t be excused, think about casually looking for a job.
In today’s world, it’s never a bad idea to have choices. If circumstances come to a head, you’ll know when to begin looking for alternative possibilities.
President, OSP International LLC
Over the years, I have learned to deal with difficult coworkers, as most of us have. Here are my three best pieces of advice.
Understand if you may have contributed to the problem at hand
This is a hard thing to do for anyone, but it’s critical to understand if you may have contributed to the problem at hand.
Have your actions set off a chain reaction?
To avoid bias, it might be helpful to ask a third, neutral party. If you can honestly say that you have not contributed to your coworker’s difficulty, then, whatever you do, don’t take it personally.
Communicate in a clear, concise, constructive manner
Your coworker’s choices of words and actions aren’t your fault. Instead of getting upset, offended, or—most importantly—engaging in workplace battle, try to continue communicating in a clear, concise, constructive manner.
Build a rapport with them
In learning to communicate with a difficult coworker, work also to build a rapport with them.
This might feel counterintuitive at best or like something you simply don’t want to do at worst, but getting to know a difficult coworker will help you in the long run.
When you take the time to get to know someone, you’ll begin to understand a bit better why they approach things the way that they do and what makes them tick.
Having this knowledge in your back pocket will help things run more smoothly in the future.
Fire them. Joking aside, there will always be people that go against your particular grain that you’re still going to have to work with to make the business thrive.
Identify scope and if you need to act
Ask yourself, “does this difficult person’s personality affect just them, me and them, or the office at large?”
- If the first, you can likely just ignore it and write it off as a personality quirk.
- If the second, you’ve got to figure out if it is worth it for you to act and the potential upside of an intervention.
- If the third, then you’ve got to figure out a plan of action.
Outline your options
Depending on your position, you’ve got a few options. If you’re a manager dealing with a disruptive employee, your set of tools will be vastly different from dealing with a difficult peer or tough to handle manager.
- Can you have a heart to heart?
- Put in an official complaint?
- Get them scheduled for the night shift if you’re feeling feisty?
Knowing what you have to work with is a key step.
Know when to stop pushing
The last thing you want is to start any sort of vendetta. After a certain point, you’re going to have to admit that occasionally some people are just going to be difficult regardless of your approach, and you’re just going to need to cut your losses.
Co-Founder and Director, Quittance Legal Services
Always be the bigger person
There will always be difficult people at your place of employment, no matter where you work. Some people simply just do not have it in them to be empathetic and do not bother thinking of others when they say or do something.
Although it would be nice not to work with people who are difficult to get along with, this, unfortunately, does not happen often.
To deal with those who make your job just a little bit tough, the best thing you can do is to always be the bigger person.
If they become argumentative, defensive, or upset, it can be in everyone’s best interest to either walk away or come to some agreement to placate them.
This does not always feel like the right thing to do, and your pride might get hurt, but making the situation worse will not enhance your work experience.
You can also rest assured that other people in the office will find them difficult, and they are probably trying to manage it as best they can.
If things escalate and the person becomes unruly, then you may need to get management involved. But it is crucial to keep in mind that this might not fix the problem, so it is best to try and deal with this person on your own.
Stand up for yourself when necessary, and just let the issues you face with them slide off your shoulders as much as possible.
CEO, eBusiness Institute
Evaluate your own feelings
When dealing with difficult people at work, the first thing you should do is evaluate your own feelings.
Now, I’m not implying that you should blame yourself for what you’re feeling—you should avoid the trap of self-gaslighting!
However, ask yourself:
- Why does this person invoke a particularly negative feeling in me?
- Do other people have difficulties with them too, and on what basis?
- Does it happen frequently? Is it possible that this is my personal self-esteem issue?
You must be able to honestly answer whether your internal problems are manifesting and affecting your interpretation of what is happening. But again, don’t gaslight yourself.
As a rule of thumb: If you have to do a lot of mental gymnastics to prove you’re the problem, you’re probably not the problem.
Nevertheless, introspection remains and continues to be a healthy response. Particularly, it can keep you from embarrassing yourself if you happen to be wrong about someone.
“Difficult” can be subjective at times. Sometimes we consider someone difficult when they don’t do what we say. The issue here could just be that we’re unreasonable and too controlling.
We often have to “edit” our immediate responses to accommodate those around us better. Is it possible that you don’t do that? As you can see, it’s complicated. So, don’t rush into making a decision and take some time to introspect first! There’s nothing to lose, after all.
If, after this, it still turns out that they are difficult, you’ll have accomplished two worthy goals:
- Completed an exercise of restraint, which is something not many people do today, and
- Stopped to think before you act, which will moderate your response and make it more assertive.
Founder and CEO, Bounce
Do the “listen and repeat” strategy
Although it is easy to get frustrated, it is important to recognize that problems with difficult people at work often stem from their frustration of being misunderstood.
Therefore, a “listen and repeat” strategy can be beneficial in bringing down the temperature.
It is easy to let emotion get the best of us, leading to the misconstruing of intent, so disciplining ourselves to focus on what our coworker is saying rather than how they are saying is critical to gaining better understanding.
So, once your colleague states their thoughts, you should extract their key points and then repeat what they said to you.
This simple process provides a sense that you are making an effort to understand them, which is the first step in diffusing tension.
In addition, by emphasizing their concerns in your feedback, you will show that you value their thoughts and will be more likely to successfully turn a contentious relationship into a productive one.
Director of Customer Relations, Service Titan
Directly confront the problem
No matter what scenario you’re in, dealing with difficult people can be challenging, drawn-out, and very unpleasant. However, specifically dealing with people at work is a whole other ballpark.
Your job security could be at risk, and you more than likely want to continue your tasks for the day.
The best method for dealing with difficult people at work is to:
- Make the problem, or problems, aware with your boss
- Gather everyone involved with the problem
- Settle the issue in person immediately
You can create a scenario where both parties ‘ voices can be heard by directly confronting the problem with any team leader and the difficult person.
Then, everyone can come up with a solution that both parties are satisfied with to deal with the problem at hand.
If you don’t immediately confront and talk with a difficult person at work, it can lead to:
- swelled-up anger,
and more from other co-workers that can lead to huge outbursts and incidents in the future.
Head of Growth, Instrumentl
Work on your reactions
One of the most important keys to dealing with difficult people at work is learning not to react.
If you know that reacting will only make things worse, then it’s helpful to work on your reactions so that they are more positive.
For example, if someone has a habit of coming late to meetings, and the time for them to arrive comes and goes, it’s easy to get annoyed.
But if you know that reacting by getting angry or making a comment will only make them more likely to be late again in the future, then don’t! Instead, try waiting until they’ve arrived before saying anything—even if it takes an hour.
There are many different ways of reacting to difficult people at work, but if you want to make sure that you’re not making the situation worse, it’s best to take a step back and think about how your response will affect them and others around them.
I find setting aside time to honestly talk with them and address the issue head-on resolves most conflicts before they exacerbate to a point beyond repair.
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Let us improve this post!
Tell us how we can improve this post?