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Elana Maryles Sztokman, PhD, writer, researcher, educator and activist, writing on issues pertaining to gender and Jewish life in Israel and around the world.

10 Tips for Dealing With Difficult People at Work

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10 Tips for Dealing With Difficult People at Work

In every workplace, you will have difficult coworkers. Dealing with difficult coworkers, bosses, customers, clients, and friends is a skill worth perfecting. Dealing with difficult situations at work is challenging, yet rewarding.

You can vastly improve your own work environment and morale when you increase your ability to deal with the people at work. You also make your workplace a better environment for all employees when you address the problems that a difficult coworker is causing for the team.

Fortunately, in most workplaces, you spend the majority of your days dealing with the normal, everyday people in the office. But, in the event that a coworker is a difficult person, you’ll need additional skills in your interpersonal skills arsenal.

Dealing With Difficult People at Work

Man holding 2 fists apart

Difficult people are found in every single workplace. Difficult people come in every variety that you can imagine. But, how difficult a person is for you to deal with depends a lot on such factors as your self-esteem, your self-confidence, how closely you must work with them on a daily basis, and your professional courage.

Dealing with difficult people is easier when the person is just generally obnoxious or when the behavior affects more than one person. You can team together to address the behavior or inform management and Human Resources staff to get help addressing the employee issue before it spirals into negativity.

Dealing with difficult people is much harder if the individual is publicly undermining your professional credibility, claiming credit for your contributions, or attacking you personally like a bully.

Why You Must Deal With Difficult People

Initially, people go into shock when they are treated unprofessionally, so if you take some time to understand exactly what is happening to you, you are not alone. Once you are fully aware of what is happening, deciding to live with the situation in the long term is not an option. It will fester to the point that you are miserable going into work each day.

You become so angry and feel so much pain that your efforts to address the situation become irrational. It’s far better to address the difficult person early while you can maintain some objectivity and emotional control.

Occasionally, at this point in your relationship with a difficult person, you can back off and decide that nothing good will come from confronting this difficult person’s behavior. You may find this is the case, for example, when you rarely encounter the person, or you’re on a short term project that will soon end.

Make sure that you aren’t fooling yourself to avoid conflict, but cases do exist when you can avoid the difficult person and minimize their impact on your work life. But, it depends on your individual circumstances.

The different types of difficult coworkers and how to deal with them

There are many constructive ways to deal with a difficult colleague, but the strategies vary depending on the person. Here are 5 common types of difficult coworkers and how to deal with them.


1. The sloth

This person is generally considered a slacker. They complete their work, but only just, and they thrive on doing the bare minimum. They’re often slow, working up to the deadline when they could easily finish right away.

Solution: First of all, be kind and respectful . Speak to them privately. Ask about the ETA for their work and politely push for an explanation. They might have personal issues you don’t know about. If they don’t appear to have a good reason, tell them how their tardiness affects your work, as this might be the kick they need to work faster.

2. The bellyacher

Look, we all need to blow off steam sometimes. But it can be exhausting when a colleague never stops complaining. These types of coworkers dwell on problems and rarely offer solutions. After a while, the negativity can be grating. It can even make you more unhappy with your job over time, even if you truly enjoy it.

Solution: Try acknowledging your difficult coworker’s complaints and subtly moving the conversation elsewhere. You can also ask them to pitch a solution. Remind them that nothing will change unless someone takes action. Since they seem passionate about the issue, why not them?

Another way to surprise the bellyacher is to offer a contrasting opinion. Continuing to be kind and respectful, you can simply say, “I actually enjoyed that meeting.” If you don’t echo their complaints, this difficult coworker will likely get bored and move onto the next person.

3. The center of attention

Some people love the spotlight but don’t like working for it. This person will often take credit for other people’s achievements. Usually, this behavior masks their underlying insecurities.

Solution: This is a case where it’s more productive to focus on yourself. Keep a list of your accomplishments and share it with your manager to help them recognize your work before someone else takes credit for it.


4. The hotshot

You might have a team member who fancies themself a know-it-all. They’re loud in meetings, rarely accept criticism, and make reckless decisions. These people like to steamroll over other people’s ideas.

Solution: This might be difficult, but try asking for their advice on a problem. This shows you’re willing to have a positive relationship. They may learn to trust you and be more inclined to hear your ideas.

5. The gossip

There’s such a thing as innocent office gossip, but sometimes, it can go too far. This person talks behind people’s backs and spreads unverified rumors. Anyone who remembers high school knows how this behavior can cause harm. Put-downs and gossip have no place in a workplace.

Solution: Don’t participate. When the conversation turns negative, simply leave and don’t repeat the rumors. You can also try changing the subject. If someone is spreading particularly harmful lies, politely ask them to stop.

How to deal with any kind of difficult coworker


1. Avoid them if you can

Some people are best in small doses. Don’t feel bad limiting your interactions with them. To avoid drama, remember to be kind and continue to engage in small talk. Don’t give them the cold shoulder — just keep your time with your difficult coworker brief.

2. Don’t let them push your buttons

Figure out why your difficult coworker bothers you so much. What behaviors are the most bothersome? What buttons do they push? When they start exhibiting those traits, you can politely excuse yourself. You can also work on coping mechanisms such as deep breathing .

3. Stay positive

4. Don’t take it personally

BetterUp can help you learn how to deal with difficult coworkers and navigate these relationships. Whether you need career advice, to find better work-life balance, or help developing your career, we’ll always be in your corner.



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