How to Work With Difficult People

Work with difficult people? You can address the situation.

Difficult people are everywhere–the workplace is no exception. At work they can be supervisors, customers, colleagues, and business partners. In life, it’s impossible to get along with everyone all the time. There will be people we just don’t see eye-to-eye with. But at your job, getting along with others goes with the territory of being employed. Learning how to work with difficult people is a skill anyone can master and elsewhere in life. Taking the first step towards a more peaceful workplace starts here.


Are They the Problem or You?

It’s easy for people to naturally assume that they are not the problem, but rather, the opposite party is. To assess this, ask yourself the following questions:

Have I always had difficulty dealing with this person or type of person?

Is there the potential that I am overreacting?

Do others have difficulty dealing with this person?

Are they clearly exhibiting toxic behavior (chronic negativity, bully, etc.)

Most people do not realize when they are being difficult for others to work with. There are exceptions to this. Workplace bullies assert control or power over others and are deliberate in their tactics that make them difficult to work with. Chronically negative people often disguise their negativity as a measure of “protecting” themselves from scrutiny by garnering empathy or sympathy instead of addressing their issues and use this as a form of manipulation. If it is clear the other person is the issue, start by identifying which type they fall under. Then review proposed methods for addressing their behavior.


Types of Difficult People and How to Address the Situation

We’ve listed the types least difficult people and work our way up to the more challenging types. Following each category of person, we’ve included ways to best address the situation. If you don’t feel comfortable addressing it alone, or fear that by addressing it on your own it might make the situation worse, go to a trusted supervisor or HR where your concerns can be heard and you be given proper protocols for addressing such matters. In some cases, companies have clear policies and procedures for doing so in the employee handbook.

The Oblivious

Oblivious people exhibit behaviors that in some cultures is considered offensive, or at the very least, downright annoying. It is very likely that this person isn’t aware that their behavior or actions are making them a challenge to work with. This person might very well be quite likable, save for the behavior that drives others nuts.

Something important to keep in mind is that the issue could be from a lack of understanding cultural social norms, or another underlying issue (such as a valid medical reason). It’s best to give this type of person the benefit of the doubt. If after you’ve made an attempt to address the issue it continues, find constructive ways to tune-out this behavior and leave it to management or HR to address it.

How to Address and Work With The Oblivious

◊ Do not engage in passive-aggressive behavior when addressing the matter (making snide remarks or comments, etc. This can only ignite the situation and could make it worse)

◊ Review company handbook/guide for resolving the matter and follow it

◊ Use constructive tools to tune-out the behavior (headphones, using a fan)

◊ Use constructive methods to make the behavior tolerable (giving yourself more space, walking away)

◊ Speak to them directly and professionally about it. Example conversation: “This is awkward for me to bring up with you because we work together. I appreciate that you enjoy smelling pleasant, but could you apply your fragrance in the restroom? Working in close quarters, the scent really carries and lingers.”

◊ Have management/supervisor/HR/ address if your efforts are ignored and/or ask for their advice as to how to handle


The Chronically Negative

Chronically negative people can present several different forms of negativity–the victim (everyone else is to blame for their circumstances), the pessimist (good news always is always wrapped in some form of doubt/negativity), and the dramatic (their situation is always worse). No matter what sub-type the individual falls under, a common thread is shared–your experience with them leaves you drained and down. Chronically negative people can make a workplace toxic and unpleasant for anyone.

How to Address and Work With The Chronically Negative

◊ Do not engage in passive-aggressive behavior when addressing the matter (making snide remarks or comments, etc. This only adds fuel & keeps the negativity flowing)

◊ Review company handbook/guide for resolving the matter and follow it (note- your handbook/guide may not specifically address this issue altogether or call it something else)

◊ Use constructive methods to make the behavior tolerable (excuse yourself & state you have something you need to get to)

◊ Speak to them directly and professionally about it. Example conversation: “It sounds like you’ve got a lot going on. I’m sure there is a better way to manage it, maybe you should go & see your manager or talk to HR.” “Let’s not try to rain on everyone else’s parade, some people find it to be upsetting. Perhaps tone it down a bit.” “I notice that whenever we talk, the conversation always seems to steer towards being negative. What good is going on? I need some positivity. How about you?”

◊ Have management/supervisor/HR/ address if your efforts are ignored and/or ask for their advice as to how to handle


The Gossip

People who exhibit behaviors that make them a gossip usually engage in such behaviors to form bonds or have means of connecting with others. Sometimes this behavior is done to learn of information that is “leveraged” later and used for the Gossip’s benefit–at the cost of someone else. Despite the allure of being “in-the-know”, Gossip’s build a reputation for not being able to keep information confidential and perceived as untrustworthy & if you’re involved directly or indirectly, you run the same risk, which could come with legal ramifications in some cases.

How to Address and Work With The Gossip

If YOU are the topic/target of the Gossip’s conversation

◊ Review company handbook/guide for resolving the matter and follow it. Gossiping or talking about personal or confidential information can in some cases be against the law and/or seen as form of workplace harassment and bullying

◊ Speak to them directly and professionally about it. Example conversation: “I was made aware that some conversations regarding me have taken place. I don’t appreciate being the topic of untrue reputation slander and hope these conversations stop here and now. I do not want to involve management, but if I feel as if I have no other choice, I will do so. I hope I’ve made myself clear.”

◊ Have management/supervisor/HR/ address if your efforts are ignored. Make it clear that you want it shut down

If someone/something else is the topic/target of the Gossip’s conversation

◊ Walk away from the conversation, if that isn’t possible, state you don’t like to talk office politics–and change the subject completely

◊ If you’re put on the spot & at risk of being roped into the conversation, apologize and state that you can’t help with that


The Bully

Working with a bully is not something anyone should have to tolerate. In fact, workplace bullying is something that can have consequences for the person doing the bullying, including but not limited to, those that are legal. If you are the target of the workplace bully or have witnessed bullying, the best action to take is to go straight to management or HR and have them address the situation.

If there is no formal HR or if your manager is the bully in question, document everything that is going on and keep that as evidence. Go to another supervisor, your company’s benefits administrator, or a mentor for advice or assistance on next steps. If none of these are options, do not recommend trying to handle a workplace bully directly on your own. Consult to online resources such as Bullyonline or seek the advice of a trained professional (attorney, psychologist, therapist) who can provide you with guidance for your particular situation.

 


Working with difficult people is challenging, but not impossible. By taking a proactive approach to the situation, you can be on the path to finding a solution that works for you. If you liked this article, be sure to check out more over on our blog & our BetterU category.