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How to Deal with Difficult Coworkers and Bosses

Difficult bosses and coworkers can make your work life miserable. I recently did a segment on News Channel 8’s News Talk with Bruce DePuyt on how to deal with them. (You can watch the segment here.)

A difficult person is someone whose behavior negatively impacts the way you do your job. Difficult coworkers and bad bosses come in all shapes and sizes, including the bully, the slacker (they do nothing), the shouter, the fraud (they pretend to be busy when they really do nothing), the hypercompetitor, the blowhard, etc.

The key to dealing with difficult people is to recognize that you cannot change how someone else behaves. The only thing you can do is manage your own behavior and learn to interact and work with them on your own terms. You want to be proactive and not reactive.

But you have to remember that what’s difficult for you may not be difficult for someone else, so you have to understand how the difficult behavior impacts you. You have to understand your own triggers and how the behavior impacts you so you can find ways to manage it.

When you have a difficult person you only have three choices: Confront, cope, or quit.

1. You can confront the behavior. You want to confront the behavior and not the person. Be very clear to separate the person from the behavior, and be very clear about what you want. Confronting requires a difficult conversation in which you discuss the behavior and not the intention behind it. You want to discuss how the behavior has impacted you and/or your team and request something different. Here’s a sample for someone who takes credit for a team project:

“Sally, I understand that it is important for you to be recognized for your work, and it’s important for us too. When you take solo credit for the team’s efforts it impacts us negatively. It’s demoralizing and we feel we are not being recognized properly. We’d prefer if you mentioned us too when you talk about our team’s successes.”

Also, remember that there is strength in numbers. If other people feel the same way you do then bring them with you. Just don’t gang up on someone or back them into a corner. Be polite.

2. You can learn to cope with the person and the behavior. This is the “just deal with it” choice. Don’t take the behavior personally. Try to deflect it, ignore it, and find ways to operate around that it: Coping mechanisms include:
Avoiding the person as much as possible.
Keeping conversations and interactions short.
Sticking to a certain time limit or mandating limits on meetings or projects.
Working remotely or electronically.
Asking to be placed on someone else’s team.

3. You can quit and walk away. Unless you have to, simply stop engaging with the person. Don’t interact with them at all. Just walk away. Quit the job if you have to.

Now, when the difficult person is your boss it’s considerably harder. You can always quit your job, but that’s not a good option for most people. Sadly, your options are limited.

Remember that it’s not about you, it’s about them, so find ways to work around or with them. If your boss is a bully, find ways to confront that. Self-promote like crazy. Be vocal about your accomplishments and what you can do.

Bosses and managers are the number one reason people stay or leave a job, and the number two reason is office climate. The way people behave and interact with each other on the job is critical. Just remember that you can’t change the way difficult people behave. You can only change how you deal with them. Good luck.


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