Last updated:

November 4, 2022


 min read

5 Strategies to Deal With Difficult People at Work

Do you have a colleague you just can’t seem to make peace with? Wondering how to get your work done without starting a new conflict every other day? Read this!

Reviewed by
Written by
Aadya Varma

Every workplace (ideally) is made up of a diverse group of people, each of whom brings unique ideas and perspectives to the table. However, some of them might come across as toxic, insensitive, or just super challenging to work with, whatever might be the reason. These are the ones we can label as somewhat difficult to work with. Having said that, what counts as ‘toxic’ or ‘difficult’ is of course very dynamic and subjective. 

Keep reading to learn more about how to spot such co-workers and what to do to deal with them while not compromising your performance or mental wellbeing.

How to identify a difficult coworker

The following can act as your starting point while identifying a difficult co-worker:

  • They procrastinate and do not take deadlines seriously.
  • They are poor communicators, and your work suffers because of that. 
  • They keep asking for ‘small favours’ and guilt you into helping them.
  • They are rude and irritable on most days.
  • They take credit even for others’ ideas and efforts.
  • They are not good listeners and focus only on asserting what they have to say.
  • They like to pick on you or crack ‘jokes’ about your supposed weaknesses. 

Difficult colleagues not only make it tougher to get things done but also heavily contribute to a toxic work environment. A toxic work environment leads to burnout, stress, and anxiety, making people less productive and eventually pushing them to the verge of quitting or working at the expense of their mental health. 

Dealing with difficult people at work can be both mentally and emotionally exhausting. Plus, since we have to see them every day, avoiding them isn't a viable solution in the long run. If you are wondering what else you can do in such situations, check out the following tips!

6 strategies that can help

1. Don’t lose your calm

Whenever we find someone testing our limits, it is normal for us to lose our temper; however, that would only further worsen things. So, try not to give in to the impulses and maintain your calm instead. 

Someone who is calm is perceived as being in control, centred, and approachable. Ask yourself, whom would you prefer working with - someone who is composed or someone who is one edge? When the person you are dealing with notices that you are calm despite their actions, they might unconsciously try to mend their ways and return the same behaviour. 

2. Directly approach the person

It is imperative to communicate to the coworker how you feel about their specific actions and behaviours. Ensure you focus more on discussing the negative experiences you have had with them and how they have affected you instead of making accusations or acting hostile. This is because there is a possibility that their perception of the situation might be entirely different from yours. When they finally put themselves in your shoes, they are more likely to realise their shortcomings. 

3. See if you can develop a rapport 

It may sound next to impossible to develop a relationship with a difficult employee, but it is achievable. When you try to know someone - their workstyle, interests, likes, and dislikes - you can better understand what makes them trigger or what they expect from the other person. This way, you would also be able to convey to the coworker that you care for them, which might make them rethink their actions.

4. Talk to your supervisor

After you have directly approached your colleague, if they still make no effort to change their ways, maybe it's time to talk to your manager or someone from your HR department. The best way to go about this is to take notes and highlight things not as interpersonal problems but as issues affecting your productivity and progress. 

5. Seek professional help

Yes, it is valid and, in fact, advisable to see a mental health professional to tackle your workplace issues. A counsellor would not only give you a perspective to see your problems through a new lens but help you identify your blindspots through non-directive questioning. This would allow you to see your own shortcomings and take actionable steps to overcome them.

Wondering how to find the right therapist? Rocket Health is the one-stop solution for all your mental health concerns. Our team of experts provide you with a safe, non-judgmental space to express your concerns and offer you the help you need.