dealing with frustration at work

How to Work with Difficult People

The Bully. The Slacker. The Gossip. The Complainer. The Egotist. The Negative Nelly. Every workplace has its share of difficult people. Maintaining your professionalism is the key to coping with bosses, co-workers and even clients who seem determined to make your life miserable. Here are some tips to keep your cool when someone tries to push your buttons.

  • Know your soft spots. If you’re the only one bothered by a co-worker’s behavior, or if you’d had similar issues with co-workers in the past, perhaps the real problem is you. Think about why certain behavior sets you off. The best solution may be simply changing how you react.
  • Disengage. Limit your interactions with problem people to the minimum necessary to get the work done. Be polite, professional and detached. If you don’t respond, the difficult person may look for another target.
  • Confront the person privately. Sometimes the direct approach works best. When you are calm, ask to speak with the difficult person and explain how her behavior makes you feel. Use “I” statements to avoid putting her on the defensive. If the other person doesn’t intend the offense, you may be able to agree on a way to work more effectively together.
  • Call out the behavior publicly. Calling attention to inappropriate words or actions puts the focus on the difficult person and can help win support from your colleagues. Don’t attack. Use humor if you can. “Wow, Bob, that was harsh!” Or just remind the person about your chat. “We talked about this, remember?”
  • If all else fails, report it. When you can’t find a solution and the bad behavior is affecting your productivity or creating a hostile work environment, it’s an issue for management. Document the problem, and show how it is affecting your morale and performance. Think about possible solutions, and be prepared to have the difficult person brought into the meeting, as well, to explain “her side.”

Don’t allow a difficult co-worker’s behavior to turn you into a Complainer that your colleagues start to avoid. Take action to address the situation. If you simply can’t work with someone, ask for different work hours or physical separation from the offender. If the difficult person is your boss, think about finding a new strategy to work together that avoids your ‘trigger’ areas, or start looking for a new position while maintaining your professionalism. You’ve worked hard to build your skills – you deserve to work with people who treat you with respect and who value your contributions.