Dealing with difficult people at work
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Dealing with difficult people at work

on 23 November 2020

​You move into a new job and it all seems to be perfect. Until you’re introduced to the person you’re sharing the office with. Initially she looks OK until she starts giving you the hard treatment – being rude, putting on airs, bossing you around, embarrassing you in front of the boss and other non-welcomed gestures.

Eventually she takes to blaming you for her mistakes, even going as far as to speak negatively of you behind your back. You’re new on the block and it takes you some time to figure out what’s happening. The moment you do, you decide to give her a piece of your mind – it becomes obvious she wants you out. But think again will it mean losing your job in the bargain?

Visible friction

Another scenario – you have been in the job quite some time and are happily settled, when your boss announces somebody new is joining the team. The minute you see this person, he starts radiating negative vibes and you simply cannot see eye-to-eye. You quarrel, squabble and whilst you would like to grin and bear it, bad feelings simply take over. There is visible friction between you, yet you share a room. You take refuge in the lavatory, seek solace from your colleagues, but the bare fact is that you must spend eight hours a day with this individual and you simply cannot get along with him/her. Temptation is high – you yearn to take to your heels and leave. You start eyeing vacancy ads once again. But is it worth it?

Most of us have to deal with difficult people at some point in our lives and more often than not, difficult people turn up when we least expect them to. However, dealing with difficult people at work is not quite as easy; basically it is hard to keep your cool under such severe conditions, unless you want to risk losing your job. There are different types of difficulties that may arise between colleagues and what is termed behavioural science has been created to understand better why these arise, how to go about solving them and how to keep them at bay.

The bare fact is that certain people are born difficult. Having said this, we must remember that we all have the potential of being exasperating or ‘difficult’ to others if we put our minds to it. In reality difficult people may not simply be difficult at work, but may generally be touchy people who may easily succumb to anxiety, stress and insecurity – it is not necessarily a case of a spiteful disposition.

Their inbred fear of being eclipsed may lead them to boss others around, find fault with everything by criticising and then failing to compliment work well done, boast on how well they perform while putting others down publicly and taking to underhanded methods in trying to get one better over others.

Why would somebody behave that way? Unless these qualities are simply due to a ‘difficult’ disposition, in certain instances it could be the nature of their work which elicits them to be so difficult, in that it is such drudgery that it brings out the worst in them.

Then again, if you find yourself in this situation, you have to pause and observe your own behaviour. You could unknowingly be causing resentment by your own lack of consideration or too high expectations. Remember that most work difficulties arise because of different individual priorities. You may be too laid back for your highly strung office companion to understand.

Suggested tactics

Whatever the individual situations may be eliciting, short of resorting to mediation, there are simple tactics towards avoiding unpleasant clashes; as follows:

  • First of all remember that the negativity this person is bringing into the relationship is uniquely his or hers. It need not rub off on you. It need not become part of your life. It should bounce off you and return to the sender.

  • People are different. Nobody is obliged to like to you all the time and you’re not obliged to like other people all the time. It’s ok to feel you cannot stand somebody, but it needn’t dictate your way of behaving, nor condition your moods, particularly vis–vis fellow colleagues.

  • Seek the good sides of this other person. Observe hard and well to try and understand why this person is behaving in this way. Perhaps he/she feels threatened by your presence, fearful of losing his/her job to you. You’d be just as stand-offish wouldn’t you?.

  • Don’t go in for an attack as soon as some minor event seems to stir a discussion. Listen quietly and take note of what’s being said. Keep your calm. Retorting or shouting back will only make your opponent retort harder and shout louder.

  • Avoid confrontations. Have conversations instead. You can achieve this by keeping a level voice, pause between sentences and a hold on your tongue – blurting out personally offensive words will never work.

  • Ask for assistance and offer it in exchange.

  • Burst the bubble of indignation with kindness. Kindness always surprises people. It puts them off their guard and the minute you’re kind to somebody who’s out to get you, you shake their determination to the core. Smile kindly, offer to share a snack, invite your rival out of the office for a coffee, be nice by being polite to a fault.

  • Apart from using kindness, remember to use diplomacy.

  • Even if you feel your pulse racing and an aggravating retort is ready to pounce off the tip of your tongue – bite it and count to 10 or 20 if need be. By that time, you will have calmed down.

  • Always strive to think positive.

Bridging the gap

If you personally feel that you are trying your utmost to bridge the gap but are being unsuccessful about it, ask for assistance – perhaps from a trusted manager, an older colleague, or somebody who knows your ‘rival’ well and can mediate during a calm discussion. But don’t talk to too many people about the situation. You don’t want to seem as if you’re backstabbing the colleague, nor do you want him/her to hear of your comments from unwary third persons. Treat difficult colleagues with respect, always. This means you have to be professional in your behaviour – imagine diplomacy with a capital D. Ultimately remember, that losing your temper will get you nowhere, except out of a job.

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