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How to Deal With Difficult People at Work

Why You Must Deal With Difficult People

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Frustrated businessman gesturing with his head in his hand at a meeting
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Difficult people do exist at work. They come in every variety and no workplace is without them. How difficult a person is for you to deal with depends on your self-esteem, your self-confidence 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. Dealing with them is much tougher when they are attacking you or undermining your professional contribution.

Difficult people come in every conceivable variety. Some talk constantly and never listen. Others must always have the last word. Some coworkers fail to keep commitments. Others criticize anything that they did not create. Difficult coworkers compete with you for power, privilege and the spotlight; some go way too far in courting the boss’s positive opinion – to your detriment.

Some coworkers attempt to undermine you and you constantly feel as if you need to watch your back. Your boss plays favorites and the favored party lords it over you; people form cliques and leave you out. Difficult people and situations exist in every work place. They all have one thing in common. You must address them. No matter the type of difficult situation in which you find yourself, dealing with difficult people or situations is a must.

Why You Must Deal With Difficult People

Trust me. Your situation won’t get better; left unaddressed, it usually gets worse. Unaddressed, necessary conflict simmers just below – and often erupts counterproductively above – the surface at work.

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 long term is not an option. 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 while you can maintain some objectivity and emotional control.

Constant complaining about the coworker or situation can quickly earn you the title of whiner or complainer. Managers wonder why you are unable to solve your own problems – even if the manager’s tolerance or encouragement of the situation is part of the problem.

Worse Case Scenario If You Fail to Deal With Difficult People

Most importantly, if you are embroiled in a constant conflict at work, you may not only get blamed for being “unable to handle the situation like a mature professional,” you may be labeled as a “difficult” person, too. This label is hard to escape and can have devastating consequences for your career.

Finally, if the situation continues to deteriorate over time, the organization and your boss may tire of you. The boss may decide you are a “high maintenance” employee, easily replaced with a more professional or cooperative person, and you could lose your job.

Dealing With the Difficult Coworker

I’ve experienced workplaces in which all sorts of dysfunctional approaches to dealing with a difficult coworker have been tried. Putting an anonymous note in the person’s mailbox is not an option. Placing a can of deodorant on a hygiene-challenged coworker’s desk is not a productive option either. Confronting the bully publicly can often lead to disaster. Putting dead bugs in his desk drawer can leave your boss no option other than to fire you. So, let’s look at more productive ways to address your difficult coworker.

Are you convinced that in almost all cases you need to productively deal with your difficult coworker? Good. Then, read on to find ten ways to approach dealing with difficult people.

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