Thursday, 30 April 2009

How Can You Deal With Difficult People At Work?

From petty disagreements to all out rivalries, nearly all of us know how clashing personalities at work can affect us. Remember that even in the most extreme cases, there's usually a way to deal with that co-worker who always gets under your skin.

If you have to interact with different "characters" in your workplace, follow these tips to deal with them successfully.

The defensive person
We all know "Mr/Ms Perfect" – they are people who can never accept constructive criticism, no matter how you deliver it. They believe their way of doing things are always correct, and nothing you or anyone else can say will ever change their mind.

How to handle them: The best way to approach Mr/Ms Perfect is to give them positive reinforcement before you dish out the negative feedback. Criticize yourself first -- relate to them, and say how you "used to make the same mistake." Avoid definitive words like "never" and "always" and speak collectively, using words like "we" instead of "you." You should also avoid e-mail when you criticize them; doing it in person, face-to-face, will minimize the possibility of a misunderstanding, and will also limit how defensive they can get in response.

The constant arguer
You know that person who speaks up just to hear the sound of their own voice? Of course you do; we all do. This is the person who will dispute even the most rational points, just to be heard. They love to disagree, and always has a problem with what others say.

How to handle them: It might be tempting to put them in their place, but the best thing you can do with a constant arguer is let them finish their point. Don't interrupt them -- let them get it all out. When they’re finished, voice your opinion. Instead of fueling the fire, make your thoughts heard, and the more rational point will always win over. Agree to disagree if you need to. Above all else, always keep your cool.

The "me" person
This is the person who epitomizes ego. They have an inflated sense of themselves and believe that everything always revolves around their needs. They take credit for everything, regardless of whether or not they actually deserve it, especially when it comes to team projects. The ego-obsessed co-worker also believes their problems are always bigger and more important than everyone else's.

How to handle them: Keeping up with the "me" person will take a little extra effort on your part. It's important that you keep your manager aware of your worth and contribution, especially with team projects. Keep records of what you've accomplished, along with names and dates. Don't bother to "run your ideas" by the "me" person anymore. If they’re the type who takes your ideas and pass them off as their own, then it's time to stop making them look good. Like the saying goes, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."

The stubborn person
This is the person who's anything but a team player. They’re too committed to their own ways to ever be open to change and new ideas. Even when it seems obvious to everyone else that their methods are ineffective, they always believe that their way of doing things are the best one. The stubborn person may not always put in the energy to argue with others, but they’re generally an old-fashioned person who is set in their ways.

How to handle them: Cut your losses, and let them go. The one convenient thing about the stubborn person is that if their way of doing things do not pan out, their failure will speak for itself. Of course, if you're feeling generous, you can always try to help. Speak in general terms of how "others" do a certain task so that they’re less likely to take it personally. Then there's always the option of just doing the task yourself. This course of action might undermine them, but it will also prove your point. If possible, make them believe that they’re responsible for the change, and that it's their idea. Propose the idea to them and let them take charge.

The backstabber
This is the person we really hate -- they talk trash about you and your work to others, and they typically do it behind your back. They characterize you as someone who's incompetent and does their very best to make you look bad in front of your co-workers and superiors. Regardless of whether or not it's true, the backstabber is effective in creating the perception that you're as bad as they make you out to be.

How to handle them: The first time you hear about their trash talk, pull the backstabber aside to a private area and let them know that you're aware of what they’re doing. Most people in the office avoid confrontation, so if you let them know that you won't stand for it, they'll pay attention. They may deny the accusations but as long as you get your point across, they'll get the message.

The blame game person
When it comes to playing the blame game, this person is the champion. They never take responsibility for their mistakes and shift the blame onto others, often to an incredibly irrational extent. They fail to realize that the easiest way to impress your co-workers is to admit when you've done something wrong and explore ways to avoid doing so in the future.

How to handle them: When it's appropriate, share the responsibility. Even if a mistake was more their fault than yours, acknowledging what you did wrong will make it easier for the blame game person to admit what they did wrong on their part. When sharing the blame is not appropriate, however, it's important that you make clear to your superior who was at fault for the mishap, even if you have to do it in a private conversation.

The whiner
The whiner is that person who always complains. They’re constantly crossing the delicate line between venting frustration and unconstructive nitpicking. They unleash their cynical attitude onto whoever happens to be around them, whether they want to hear it or not.

How to handle them: Being a whiner is usually embedded into someone's personality, so you probably won't be able to change them. You can, however, minimize your interactions with them. When they start chatting you up about the latest little thing that's getting on their nerves, simply tell them that you're busy. They may take offense, but hey, they need to get the hint.


So you've done your best to deal with a difficult personality, but you still can't seem to shake them off your back. In these extreme cases, you may want consider taking one of the following courses of action.

Avoid them
You don't have to ignore them completely but you should try to steer clear of your irritable coworker as much as possible. If you don't work directly together, don't feel the need to engage in small talk or spend time with them when you don't have to.

Report them
If you've tried to deal with this person on your own to no avail, it may be time to bring up the issue with your superior. This is especially important if the quality of your work is suffering because of the situation.

Turn to human resources
If your superior is ineffective in resolving the situation, you may want to approach someone in your human resources department. These people are trained to handle these types of issues -- it's what they're paid to do.

Ask to be transferred to a different department
If that doesn't work? Well, you can always ask to be relocated within the company. It's an extreme response to an extreme situation, but in some cases, you may have no other choice.


The most important thing you can do for yourself in a situation where you have to deal with a difficult personality is keep your cool. If this person is doing their best to make you look bad, you don't want to help them out. Keep your composure, react maturely and keep an open mind.

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