10 Tactics for Working with Difficult People

It is inevitable that you will have to deal with difficult people at some point in your career. Sometimes it might be a supervisor while other times it may be your fellow associates. You may also encounter difficult customers that you have to interact with on a regular basis. There’s no simple reason why some people are difficult. The reality is that everyone is different and some personalities can be more challenging than others. Some people tend to take credit for others’ work while others blame everyone else for their mistakes. You may also have the coworker who steals everyone else’s ideas or the person who is combative whenever they are addressed. In every organization, there will undoubtedly be gossipers, bullies, demanding bosses, and terrible team players. Rather than endure these issues silently, try implementing the following strategies to help you better handle difficult people at work. 

1. Don’t React

Sometimes difficult people act out because they want to rile you up and get a reaction out of you. If you react, there’s a good chance they will repeat the behavior. Instead, remain calm and try to ignore the person’s behavior. Move on with what you are doing and let them know that you are not concerned about their behavior. Someone who can remain calm is seen as being in control and the difficult person is more likely to respect you. 

2. Develop a Rapport

It may sound counterintuitive to develop a relationship with a difficult person but this approach can actually be very effective. When you take the time to get to know someone, their likes and dislikes, their interests, and their style of work, you will have a better understanding of figuring out what makes them tick. Showing genuine interest and concern for a coworker can also motivate them to treat you with respect in return. 

3. Practice Empathy

It’s easy to lash out and get angry when someone treats you unfairly, but try looking at the situation from a different perspective. You never know what is going on in someone else’s personal life. Perhaps the person is under enormous stress caring for a sick family member or maybe the person is going through a divorce. The fact is, we all go through challenging times in our lives when our attitudes and behaviors might be affected by our current situation. Instead of judging your coworker, try listening to them and practicing empathy. 

4. Stand Up for Yourself

No matter the situation you should never be expected to accept poor, inexcusable behavior. Everyone is entitled to respect and you have a right to express your feelings if you feel you have been disrespected in the workplace. Calmly and assertively talk to the person and let them know how you feel. Let them know that you are happy to talk with them and work alongside them but you expect to be treated with respect at work. 

5. Focus on What You Can Control

There are many things in life that we can control and many that we can’t. It’s always best to focus on the things you can control. This includes dealing with difficult people. For instance, if you have a coworker that is not responsive to your calls or emails, simply move on to find another coworker who is willing to assist you with your project. Work around the difficult person and control the things you can. 

6. Practice Self-Examination

The ability to practice self-awareness is a top leadership skill in any career. Take a minute to examine your own strengths and weaknesses as well as your demeanor towards others. Are you aware of your emotions and how they affect you? Are you aware of how your behaviors are perceived by those around you? Ask yourself if there is something you could be doing that might be contributing to the problem. You also need to examine the way in which you are handling the issue so you can be sure you aren’t adding fuel to the fire. 

7. Treat the Person with Kindness and Respect

You may have heard the expression “kill them with kindness” and this can definitely be an effective tactic for dealing with difficult people. There is not a single person who appreciates being berated or treated like they are incompetent, and this includes difficult people. If you treat the person disrespectfully in return, they will almost certainly make things worse. You will be far more successful following the old mantra to “treat others the way you want to be treated.” 

8. Don’t Take Things Personally

When someone is difficult we often find ourselves taking their behavior as a personal attack. If someone is repeatedly rude to us we begin to feel like they just don’t like us. The fact is, however, that the person’s rude behavior might be originating from something else. If you don’t take it personally, you can step back and really consider the best course of action. 

9. Establish Boundaries

Dealing with a difficult person means you sometimes have to confront the person and establish firm boundaries. While you should do so with respect, it is certainly acceptable to advocate for yourself. You sometimes have to let the person know how you expect to be treated and let them know that you will not tolerate anything less. If they are unable to respect you, action may have to be taken. 

10. Talk with Your Boss

If you have tried these other approaches and all else fails, you can always talk to your manager or boss about the situation. Be prepared to communicate clearly to your boss what is bothering you and why you find the behavior unacceptable. In some cases, you might even provide a record of the person’s disrespectful behavior. Explain how their behavior is impacting you and your ability to do your job.


If you are interested in learning more, contact us today at 1-800-501-1245 to request information about training courses from the Management Training Institute as well as other corporate training programs offered through our parent company Bold New Directions.