Dealing With Difficult People At Work

You only need to start the conversation at a dinner party or function to hear countless tales of woe in the workplace about “that idiot I work with”.

If you are unfortunate enough to work with difficult people, you can sometimes feel powerless to effect any change.

You could leave, but difficult people are not centralised to your workplace so looking for greener pastures may not be the answer.

What’s more, difficult people are often oblivious to the fact that they are difficult. If you sit back and wait for the offending colleagues to change, you may be in for a long wait.

In their book, Working with You is Killing Me, Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster discuss the serious side effects of working with destructive people.

Crowley and Elster assert that working with these people can cause headaches, exhaustion, anxiety, neck and back pain and insomnia.

It can also significantly increase stress, which is strongly linked with heart attack. With all these potential health complications, working with difficult people may be more damaging than you think.

Crowley and Elster also have a great segment on YouTube where they discuss their theory of ‘unhooking’ different workplace personalities and coping in the workplace. You can view it here –

If you can’t wait for the offending individual to amend their behaviour, and changing jobs isn’t an option, here are a few coping strategies to make your day a little easier.

How to deal with difficult people

  1. Analyse the situation
  • What is it about the situation or person that annoys you?
  • When does this situation seem to present itself? Is there a pattern?

Once you understand what is really bothering you, you are better placed to establish coping strategies.

2.  Examine yourself

  • Are you contributing to the situation in any way?
  • Are your expectations of others unrealistic?
  • Are you letting your own moods and emotions colour situations?

Consider that it may not be everyone else’s fault. Put the microscope on yourself and examine how you or your feelings may be impacting a situation.

3. Train your brain

  • Try to focus on the difficult person’s positive attributes
  • If necessary, lie to yourself and try to enjoy the behavior!  (You would be surprised how effective this can be, if you commit. Think George Costanza’s famous line on the iconic Seinfeld TV show: “Jerry, just remember, it’s not a lie if you believe it”).

As a participant in the workplace, you have some control over the way you respond to and allow situations to affect you.

While you can’t control the behaviours of others, it is possible to change your attitude towards them.

4. Know When to Hold ‘Em and Know When to Fold ‘Em

  • Ignore the little things. Then people will take you seriously when there are bigger issues on the table and you won’t be seen as a ‘nitpicker’.
  • Make a formal complaint or address the issue if it involves harassment, discrimination or bullying.
  • Think before you act. Never react in the heat of the moment or it might be you that ends up regretting your actions.

Considering the behaviours of others and yourself rationally can have a big impact on how the situation affects you.

I would love to hear from people who have successfully put in place coping strategies for dealing with difficult people at work.

Vantage Performance is a specialist recruitment and human resources consulting firm that helps ensure clients have appropriate strategies in place to successfully retain, motivate and manage their people.

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