Dealing with difficult people

Dealing with Difficult People at Work: 7 Effective Strategies

How many times have you heard the term, “If it is too easy, then you are doing it wrong”. Well, the same applies to people too. No matter which place you work at, there is bound to be at least one difficult person you have to deal with. It is true that the degree of difficult people is a personal judgement and not uniform. However, right from subtle irritation to downright bullying, everyone has had their experiences in dealing with difficult people at work. Most of us just tend to ignore slight discomforts, attributing them to personal differences. But, when dealing with difficult people at work starts to interfere with your productivity, it is time to take matters into your hands. 

Again, if you are simply dealing with a difficult person at work, who you rarely engage with, the situation ain’t too bad. However, dealing with a difficult coworker, who you have to work with everyday can be a nightmare if you don’t address the elephant in the room when you see it. Fortunately, dealing with difficult people at work has been an age old problem and some easy to adapt solutions are already in place for your ready use.

Develop Effective Relationships

The first step towards dealing with difficult people at work is to forge effective relationships with others. When you feel someone is taking you for a ride, or is bullying you, or is simply being rude for no reason, your first instinct is to talk to someone. However, if you don’t have anyone you have faith in, this can be a tricky path. Therefore, it is very important to have at least a couple of coworkers who you can confide in. They can be your immediate let out when you deal with the person who is the core of all problems. Be it a senior, your peer, or your junior, make an effort to build an effective relationship which can be your go to solace when you are dealing with someone difficult.

Keep Calm

Next in line comes the strategy where you should keep a lid on your anger. It is human nature to completely lose cool and blow your head off at times when you are dealing with difficult people at work. More often than not, such people try to tick you off on purpose and push your buttons intentionally. You need to be cautious about what actually gets on your nerves. This will help you create a disaster management plan in case the person pushes your buttons. For instance, if you are too particular about time, a difficult person might purposely delay their submission to tick you off. However, you need to be calm and not give in to their trap.

Use Humor to Diffuse the Situation

Besides maintaining your cool, you may also want to experiment with humor to diffuse the situation. In case the situation at hand is getting too hot to deal with, you might want to bring something up which is on a lighter note. However, be cautious about using this strategy as it can backfire too. Firstly, make sure that your sense of humor is not considered as offensive by the person you are dealing with. Secondly, your humor should be appropriate to the situation. Cracking mindless jokes in a meeting where a difficult person is picking on you for not delivering on time can be a deal breaker. Therefore, the trick here is to distract the person to look at the lighter side, rather than simply crack jokes.

Discuss the Problem

This has definitely been one of the most repeated as well as most effective strategies. The best approach to dealing with difficult people at work is by discussing the problem at hand. Identify the reasons why you find the person difficult to work with. Then introspect to understand whether the problem lies in them or you. Once you are sure that it is actually the other person who is at fault, talk to them. At no point should you confront them head on, accusing them of making you uncomfortable or pressing your buttons. Rather, adopt a very tactical and subtle approach to bring the problem to the table and present your views. Then hear them out and try to identify a solution.

Fight Battles not Wars

It goes without saying that you need to stand up for what you believe in. However, investing your energy in fighting small wars might just be an overkill. You need to invest your efforts in dealing with difficult people at work when they are actually doing something that goes against your core values. Undoubtedly, it is important to call it out if you notice any kind of harassment taking place. This is a battle you have to fight. However, making a scene just because the person you find difficult left a door open or didn’t pick up their coffee mug is going a bit too far. Therefore, you need to differentiate between acts that truly make a difference to you and fight for them, rather than taking on every war that comes your way.

Give the Benefit of Doubt

While it is very important to call out whatever you find worth mentioning, however, it is also important to give the benefit of doubt. As humans, our judgment is deeply clouded by biases, perceptions and experiences which are extremely unique and personal. Therefore, it is very important to hear their side of the story before labelling a person as difficult to deal with. You need to make a conscious effort to ensure that what you are feeling has the same message that the other person seeks to convey. More often than not, miscommunication is what leads to some people being called difficult to work with. 

Ignore and Move on

Finally, this is the golden rule that you will come across whenever you are talking to someone about dealing with difficult people at work. As the number of people you work with increases, the ones who are difficult to deal with, will increase proportionately. However, individually dealing with all, either by fighting, or discussing the problem, or giving the benefit of doubt can be too much on your plate. This might eventually take over your primary business role. Therefore, it might be a good idea to simply move on and ignore those people who do not directly or indirectly have a connection to you. This is not to say that you should overlook anything wrong if it doesn’t concern you.

Dealing with Difficult People at Work: A Way Out?

Dealing with difficult people at work is a necessary evil. All of us want a way out, but struggle with identifying the path. However, there is one upside you may want to explore. Why not be a part of Recro? At Recro, we believe in connecting high quality talent with top startups. While we cannot assure that those startups will be free from difficult people, they will keep changing as you get to work with seed to unicorn startups. Worth a try, isn’t it?


At Recro we combine Design Thinking, Lean and Agile to help you achieve market-leading  performance.

We partner with our clients with the aim to transform their business challenges into growth opportunities.