Working With Difficult People

A Guide to Working with Difficult People

Working with difficult people can make an otherwise typical job seem intolerable. In fact, difficult people are often times the reason why some of us dread going to work every day. While nearly every company has at least one of these types, the degree of your annoyance often depends on how “difficult” this person is and how sturdy or lacking your self esteem is. We are going to talk about two types of difficult people: those who are generally annoying to everyone and those who target a specific co-worker.

General Annoyance

Working with difficult people is not easy to deal with, but it can help to know that someone is generally annoying to everyone in the workplace and not just to you. Regardless of where we go in life, there will always be someone who sports the “glass is half full” attitude, complains frequently, interrupts others, or has to be the last one to speak. We’ve all come across those who strive to outshine everyone else in the workplace, but the good news is that they are simply trying to look their best and get in with the boss. Their difficult nature is not personal towards you and so it shouldn’t be taken as such—it’s just the way they are.

That being said, the problem should still be dealt with—as long as you are 100% sure that you are not simply overreacting about the situation. We all have our touchy spots, and it could be possible that a specific person in your workplace simply tends to brush these areas more than others do. This may not be intentional and could in fact be oversensitivity on your part. If you have heard others in your workplace make comments that support your feelings, then it’s safe to say that you are in fact dealing with a difficult person.

Dealing with general annoyance is best done by addressing the basic issue. What is it that this person is doing which grates on your nerves? Do they always butt-in without allowing you to finish a sentence? The next time this happens, bring the action to their attention. Don’t be snappy or rude about it—as this could get YOU labeled as a nasty or difficult person, too—but simply state that you weren’t finished saying your piece. If they are a constant complainer, try to delicately bring this up in conversation, as well. A simple statement such as, “I can’t help but notice that you seem disappointed or upset a lot—if you ever need to vent, I’m here,” can work wonders. Sometimes difficult people have a reason for being so difficult, and they may not even realize what they’re doing. So sit down and try to brainstorm of ways that you can confront this difficult person professionally and effectively.

Direct or Targeted Aggression

Every now and then, we come across someone who seems dead-set on challenging our authority and ability. Jokes made at your expense, frequent sarcastic comments directed mainly towards you, and unprovoked looks of disapproval are all examples of how a co-worker can be directly difficult with you. This type of person is typically looking to get a rise out of you, or they may simply want to scare you away. The reason behind this is likely not personal towards you (although there is always the small possibility of them being biased against a certain lifestyle, race, or religion). This person may feel that you are a threat to their workplace status, or that you may actually prove a challenge to overcome on their corporate climb.

This type of behavior definitely will need to be dealt with, but there are a few things that you should remember NOT to do. Have you ever heard the saying “anger feeds anger”? When someone really hits a nerve, it is a natural response to defend yourself by reacting with anger. Anger is a protective emotion and while it can come in handy sometimes, the workplace is definitely not the place for it. Take your time and think through the logic of the situation. Say this workplace “bully” made a rude comment about one of your ideas. Becoming hostile or shouting your defense at this person is not going to make them change their mind about your idea, and it’s only going to make YOU look unprofessional and short-fused. The proper reaction would be to firmly support your idea by stating the reasoning behind it. Don’t allow this difficult person to chase you away or make you swallow their negative treatment, but you also shouldn’t give them the satisfaction of getting a rise out of you.


Realize that you aren’t going to change this person. If they genuinely dislike you or feel threatened by you, then the only option you have is to change the way their treatment makes you feel and react. If your attempts at “making peace” don’t work, then they probably never will. Don’t allow a bully to milk your energy and effort simply because they thrive on it.

Working with difficult people is one thing, but open hostility is another. Everyone has the right to go to work without the fear of being treated badly, and that includes you. If you feel that you are being genuinely bullied at work, consider speaking to your boss about the situation.