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How do you deal with especially difficult colleagues in the workplace?

Particularly with those you have to work with on a daily basis?


Topic Expert
Malak Kazan
Title: VP, Special Projects
Company: ERI Economic Research Institute
(VP, Special Projects, ERI Economic Research Institute) |

You want to take actions to improve the relationship so it should be handled has objectively as possible. Be specific in describing the "difficult behavior" the impact it is having on the working relationship and in achieving depart/team goals. If possible, give "role" model examples of how others have successful handled similar situations. This should be communicated directly to the individual both in written form (I've sent emails) and then followed up with a live phone conversation to make sure the effort to bring this to their attention was well intentioned and there are no misunderstandings. Do not involve others at this point. You will likely mend fences this way. Hope this helps.

(Agent, JKS Solutions, Inc.) |

I'm eventually going to write a blog post on this topic, so let's see if I can offer some visual framing.

Every person walks the earth averting their own mental weather patterns and being blown off track by unexpected mental weather patterns of other people who are not self aware. When two people conflict a lot of times the weather patterns are the same. What you dislike in the other person is what you dislike in yourself. You only notice what you dislike in the other person because you yourself recognize your own pattern so well in them. Takes one to know one is a phrase that comes to mind.

Other times that is not true, you may be so different you cannot relate to how the other person even processes the world around them, you might say they are crazy and then continue discounting everything that person has to offer sight unseen, just because you don't get them. You have to really guard against doing this.

Going a little further to examine some of the evil underbelly of the workplace you may encounter those who view placing obstacles in your path as a sport. They are the sand baggers, the ones who work actively to thwart your strategy at every turn, because they see how valuable your offering is and they don't want others to replace them with you. Its a popularity contest in many cases and if you are gaining in popularity, your rival will do everything in their power to retain the throne including building alliances to get you fired with invented gossip about your personal life outside of work as well as your perceived liaisons in the office-this is why as a supervisor or manager you never go drinking with the crowd after hours.

Anthropology tells us that males compete to obtain the largest piles of toys and females simply choose the male with the largest pile of toys. Females compete with females by working to oust the female who won the most successful male. This is the core reason women don't help other women succeed, its instinct.

Without doubt there is always someone who is difficult.

I usually start out by working several different angles of logic and reasoning, trying to promote my idea, but that usually fails. The unwillingness to get along or work through the issue for a win-win runs very deep and usually back to childhood and family relationships. The more you try the more difficult they get.

At this point, with no more positive ammunition I tend to start a review of their relationships with others in the same office. Who are their friends, who do they eat lunch with, who do they like doing favors for, and who do they put everything aside for to get up and help at the cost of having to work overtime to get their own work done. Who are these people, and how can I become as much like them in this person's eyes so that I am an acceptable collegue? What are the attributes that I need to possess to lubricate the relationship? These are the questions you need to ask. Please don't be obvious and buy anyone cakes, donuts, coffee, balloons, those things are so trite.

Get to know the difficult person's friends. Those friends may have heard a lot of dirt already from the difficult person, but as soon as you start making proactive social attempts to get to know people the dirt falls off like dried mud because none of what was said was true. People do give you a chance to provide evidence that you aren't what the difficult person said you are. Be fearless, make friends with the difficult person's friends. If you say only positive things and provide positive reinforcement for positive efforts and ignore the negatives, people will start getting so much positive energy from you they will all be willing to help you accomplish your goals.

You have to decide what your personal marketing plan is for the workplace you inhabit and you need to decide what kind of PR you want for yourself.

You are your own brand maker and sometimes overcoming the difficult personality will show others they can over come that same difficult person as well, double bonus, you have all the friends and you are their hero.

Remember this because it will bring you confidence:

The level of powerlessness a person feels determines how difficult they become.

Think about that little gem and create some positive strategy.

Topic Expert
Regis Quirin
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP) |

Way too much effort. In life there are those that like us, those that can take or leave us, and those you will just never convince. If you find your nemesis falls into category three, move on. Just keep your composure and treat them with respect. Focus your efforts on the 1st and 2nd group. There is no canned solution. Sorry. If your just starting your career - this will not be the last difficult person. If you are later in your career - you know that. Good luck.

Chris Shumate
Title: Accounting Manager
Company: Dominion Development Group, LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Accounting Manager, Dominion Development Group, LLC) |

The best solution I have ever used to help with a coworker I did not get along with was to pray for the relationship to get better (I know it is not what many want to hear on such a website for professionals) and it did get better; the second best alternative for me, personally, was to read Stephen Covey's "Seven Habits.." book. Covey tells us to take control of our destiny by writing down what we value most. Doing what is within your Circle of Influence and doing what matters most helps with relationship issues in the workplace. Remember that you cannot change anyone, just like no one can change you. People have to change for themselves. I have to agree with Regis, it is too much effort, rather put your effort into being a person that others want to work with, not trying to appease everyone. I would recommend taking a look at Covey's book, unless the first option appeals to you, but still read Covey.

Regis is correct also by saying this will not be the last difficult person you encounter. If you want to encounter some really trying people, call your state's Department of Revenue and trying getting a refund you filed for! Whether it is a boss, coworker, vendor, or customer there will always be people you will not mesh with. And in all honesty, if you seem to be running into a ton of people you do not mesh with, you have to consider what the real problem is. For instance, is the problem with your view of the people (such as their lower-than-you-status, or their perpetual bad attitude, or overly confrontational ways of handling issues). To be a little candid and hopefully add a little value to this post of mine, I have found on more than one occasion that I was the problem, not the other person. Apologizing and eating the proverbial crow does not taste too good, but it goes a long way in repairing a relationship. I am not trying to indicate you are the problem, only suggesting to view the problem from 10,000 feet. It may still be the other person, some people are just that way towards others.

Best of luck, and I hope this helps.

(Agent, JKS Solutions, Inc.) |

Relationships are tricky and one of the hardest things is to be put into a middle management role between several departments in a large matrix organization with standing relationships, knowing they hired you to change the entire tone across the functional areas, with absolutely no support to accomplish that feat, with all those people knowing why you are there and what your role will be.

No one gets on board because of your title, but you must accomplish the relationship changes regardless.

This is a hard topic but I have counseled many to success and I am not suprised about the minus ratings received by those who have no patience for working through the issues.

If you are a consultant or a co-worker with a powerful difficult person, you can't just turn your back and say its their problem.

And Yes, prayer does help, if nothing more than to maintain your sanity as the difficult person continues to work against you.

You don't always have the ability to control the situation and an analytical approach does not help, it only makes it worse.


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