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Christa Sterling

December 21st, 2016

Sometimes you can form a positive relationship with a difficult co-worker with a little effort.

Unfortunately, difficult people exist everywhere, and sometimes you encounter them daily while doing your job. While you’ve undoubtedly done your best to deal with difficult people in the past, there are some tried and tested techniques that can help.

1. Avoid complaining to co-workers about difficult people.

It can feel satisfying at the time to vent to your other co-workers about that difficult person who is driving you crazy, but it won’t take long before your complaining will get you labeled as difficult yourself. Even if everyone agrees with you, complaining will often leave a bad taste in others’ mouths about you, and may be perceived as picking on the co-worker.

2. Decide ahead of time how to handle the situation.

While you shouldn’t get caught up in complaining at the office, getting input about how to handle situations with difficult people can be important at times. Once you’ve gotten some advice, you can make a plan for how you want to proceed ahead of time. Deciding in the moment how to deal with a difficult person can lead to impulsive, emotional reactions that you will later regret. It’s best to plan ahead.

3. Confront them when you are calm.

When you are worked up and irritated is the worst time to deal with a difficult person. You are highly likely to say something you will later regret and make the situation even worse than it already is. When the difficult person provokes you, walk away if possible. Then, when you’ve completed number two above, you can calmly implement your plan.

Your team can work well together when you deal with conflicts effectively.

4. Use facts to reframe the situation.

Difficult people often exaggerate their complaints and try to make it look like things are horrible rather than just unpleasant. When a co-worker says that so-and-so is “always” behind on their work or “never” on time, you can point out the facts of the situation. Although you may not change their point-of-view, you may at least make them less vocal about their complaints or get others to see things more realistically.

5. Don’t hide behind your feelings – be honest but tactful.

When you do confront a difficult person, it’s important to say your piece as directly and honestly as possible while still being tactful and respectful. This sounds easier than it is, but it will produce the best results whether the person responds to your attempts to communicate or not. You can’t expect the person to change if they don’t know how they are impacting others or what they are doing “wrong,” and if you need to escalate the situation, you can feel secure that you did the right thing in your initial attempts to deal with it on your own.

6. Know when to take other action.

If you have tried repeatedly to correct the problem with grace and tact but are getting nowhere, you may need to go to your boss or other superior to get the situation taken care of. It’s probably time to do this if you or others are under prolonged stress and the person refuses to acknowledge the situation or change their behavior.

CCSU Continuing Education courses help you navigate the workplace, including difficult co-workers. View open courses to see what topics will be covered in our upcoming programs.