Steps to Dealing With Difficult People at Work: Bosses, Co-Workers and Friends

Written By Kaisa Kokkonen Published March 23rd, 2010

In the ideal world you workplace is perfect, you will have no difficult coworkers. However, I have never worked at a place like that. Dealing with difficult coworkers, bosses, clients, or friends is an art worth perfecting. It is challenging, but can be very rewarding rewarding.

Here are some steps you can take in dealing with difficult people at work.

Step 1. Co-Workers from Hell

We all know that difficult people come in every variety and no workplace is without them. How difficult it is for you depends on personality, self-esteem,
self-confidence and professional courage. It is far more difficult when someone is making personal attacks on you or undermining your professional contribution. It is somewhat easier when the person is just generally obnoxious and disliked by most everyone – or when the behavior affects more than one person.

Step 2. Have a Bully at Work?

Why do you think you work with a bully? Is he trying to intimidate you regularly, you dread to work anywhere near him, or you’re yelled at, insulted, and put down? He is great at talking over you at meetings, criticizing your performance, and seems to be talented at how to steal credit for your work? If you answer yes to these questions, join the rest of the 54 million Americans, who have been attacked by a bully at work. You are not alone. I have been there too.

Step 3. Dealing With a Negative Coworker

Some people don’t like their jobs or they don’t like their company. They are always treated unfairly and their bosses are jerks. The customers are worthless. You know these people who exude negativity – every organization has some. Here are some tips for dealing with difficult, negative coworkers. I would avoid spending time with a negative coworker. The fact is that if you are forced to work with a negative person, set limits. Do not allow yourself to be drawn into negative discussions – cut them out. Tell the negative coworker, you prefer to think about your job positively. Avoid providing a sympathetic audience for the negativity.

Suggest the negative person seek assistance from human resources or their supervisor. Last option is to talk to your own supervisor or human resources staff about the challenges in dealing with this negative person. They may have ideas, are possibly willing to address the negativity, and may address the issue with the negative person’s supervisor. Persistent negativity, that impacts coworkers’ work is a work behavior that occasionally requires disciplinary action.

If negativity is persistent, if the issues that warrant negativity are left unaddressed, and the negativity affects your work performance, you may want to consider moving on. And, if no one is working to improve a work culture that enables negativity, the culture is not one you should want to be part of.

Step 4. Do Not Fear Confrontation and Conflict

If you want to stick up for your rights at work a conflict is often necessary. Sometimes you need to hold a confrontation with a coworker whether the confrontation is over shared credit, irritating habits, or about how to keep a project on track. The confrontation should almost never be your first choice but you can become better and more comfortable with necessary conflict.

5. Develop Effective Work Relationships

No matter your education, experience, or title, if you can’t play well with others, you won’t succeed. It is a like a children’s playground. You can be the richest kid with the best toys but the other kids don’t like playing with you. The fact is that effective relationships create success and satisfaction on the job. You look much better in your co-workers’ eyes if you can bring suggested solutions with the problems instead of just identifying problems.That’s the easy part. Avoid ever playing the blame game. If you make enemies, they will, in turn, help you to fail. You do need allies at work. Keep in mind that your verbal and nonverbal communication matters. Do not scream at people who can not scream back at you. And, never blind side a coworker, boss, or reporting staff person (lynching or ambushing your coworkers will never build effective work alliances, it creates loyal enemies). Honor your commitments, share credit for accomplishments, ideas, and contributions as it is rarely only you who did something.
Last but not least – pay forward! Help other employees find their greatness. Compliment, recognize, praise, and notice others’ contributions. You don’t have to be a manager to help create a positive, motivating environment for employees.

Step 6. Learn How to Hold a Difficult Conversation

One way is to ask for permission to provide the feedback. Ask if it’s a good time or if the employee would prefer to select another time and place. Tell the person that you need to provide feedback that is difficult for you to share and you are super uncomfortable with your role in the conversation. Often, you are in the feedback role because other employees have complained to you about the habit, behavior, or dress. Don’t beat around the bush. Tell them “I am talking with you because this is an issue that you need to address for success in this organization”. Explain him the impact that changing his or her behavior will have from a positive perspective. Tell the employee how choosing to do nothing will affect their career and job.
Set a time frame to review progress. And Follow-up.

Step 7. What Kind of Behavior Drives You Out of Your Mind?

Most likable and sane people do things that can drive their coworkers to distraction. People miss work; they miss deadlines. Some people are perpetually late for meetings. They dress unprofessionally. They wear perfum that is killing anything that breathes within 3 feet. An otherwise valued employee can spoil her boss’s day every week by repeatedly asking for a raise when the company is not giving raises. People do not listen, they give no direction and expect you to read their minds. They have family members working at the company they favor. Or the boss is favoring his girlfriend.

Step 8. I Have a Boss from Hell

Nothing is more destructive in the workplace than difficult bosses. Learn how dealing with difficult bosses is a skill you can develop to some extent. Depending on the situation here are some steps you could take.
1. Talk to this boss. Be polite and focus on your needs (in terms of direction, feedback and support). Avoid saying he’s a bad boss as that is counterproductive.
2. Ask the manager how you can help. Make sure you listen well and provide the needed assistance for him to reach his goals.
3. Seek a mentor from among other managers or more skilled peers, with the full knowledge of your current manager, to enlarge your opportunity for experience.
4. If you’ve taken these actions, and they haven’t worked, go to your boss’s manager and ask for assistance. Or, you can go to your Human Resources staff first, to rehearse and gain advice. Understand that your current boss may never forgive you, so ensure you have done what you can do with him, before taking your issues up the line.
5. You may never hear what the boss’s boss or the HR staff did to help solve your bad manager’s behavior. It’s confidential. But, do allow some time to pass for the actions to have their desired impact.
6. If nothing changes, despite your best efforts, and you think the problem is that they don’t believe you, draw together coworkers who also experience the behavior. Visit the boss’s manager to help him see the size and impact of the behavior.
7. If you think the problem is that your boss can’t – or won’t – change, ask for a transfer to another department. This recommendation presumes you like your employer and your work.
8. If a transfer or promotion is unavailable, begin your search for a new job. Fleeing is always an option. You may want to conduct your job search secretly, but under the circumstances, it may be time for you to go

Step 9. Team Spirit

Building alliances at work is very smart, great for developing positive coworker relationships, and an absolute necessity for dealing with destructive coworker behavior in the workplace. You want to be well known and liked among the people the company regards as super stars, allies who have power and will speak up for you. (In fact, you can achieve job security if you are viewed as a super star.)

Step 10. Gossip is Bad – Don’t Participate

Gossip is rampant in most workplaces. Sometimes, it seems as if people have nothing better to do than gossip about each other. They gossip about the company, their coworkers, and their managers. They frequently take a partial truth and turn it into a whole speculative truth. Dealing with difficult situations involving gossip occurs in every workplace. Find out how dealing with difficult gossip is a must-do and a can-do. Obliterate gossip from your work place.

1 Comment

  1. This is a well-written article. The information on managing difficult people in a working environment will be very helpful. Thanks.

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