How to Deal with Difficult Coworkers

January 15, 2015

Hint: The ‘Good’ is in There Somewhere

There is at least ‘one’ in every office – the dreaded coworker.  They either suck up your time talking about their weekend exploits, shout in the office as if they are navigating a crowded night club, act like they are still the high school bully, or act as if they have been transported back to the 1950s when men referred to women as “dolls,” and the notion of a woman in an office being anything other than a secretary was unheard of.

Sound familiar? Yes, we all know these types. The problem is, these ‘types’ usually don’t realize the impact they have on everyone else. Let’s look at some concrete tactics to break through the tension and get back to work, because when left undealt with, it can actually get worse.

The Lingerer – He stops by daily to ask a question then settles in and starts telling you about his day – including what he ate for breakfast and who he sat next to on the train.

  • There are some blatant ways to give the message you are busy: headset, closed door, pile of papers on the only chair. A more direct and lasting approach is to simply say, “Mornings are my most productive time. Can we catch up in the afternoon?” Often the need to debrief the weekend will lessen as the day goes on.

The Loud Phone Talker – You never have to ask what’s new with her — she freely broadcasts it to everyone. Office productivity plummets on days she is fighting with her boyfriend.

  • Often people with loud voices are completely unaware of it. Take a subtle approach with, “Hey, I am not sure you realize that your voice projects, and I wanted to let you know – especially if you are having a private conversation. It is also sometimes hard for the rest of us to concentrate. Would you like me to let you know when your volume gets too high?”

The Bully – They ask you to do things even though they are not your boss, they patronize, put you down, yell, insult, mock, and intimidate – especially in public.

  • The bully at work is a little more difficult than the one from high school, since telling on them isn’t necessarily the first step – but don’t rule it out. Being a reverse bully by calling them out in public may just antagonize them. My suggestion is to privately but immediately speak up. Present them with an opportunity to save face but speak strongly. Try, “I don’t want to think that you were intentionally trying to minimize my comments, but that was how if came off. I both appreciate and expect to be spoken to with the same respect I give you.” There are many other tactics you should consider when dealing with repeated behavior in this article.

Mr. Mad Men He has no problem calling you “doll” or asking you to send a fax — even if you’re not his subordinate.

  • What is the culture of the organization and what is his goal? Sometimes, we can look passed ignorance when there is truly no evil intent. When there doesn’t seem to be bad intention, then sometimes the best way to deal is by stopping, looking over the situation, and seeing if there could be a simple way resolve to it. This post from FORBES is a great example of how to do just that. However, if he is trying to “put you in your place” – Don’t go! You can treat him as if he is kidding or say, “Faxing is simple. Let me show you so you don’t need to wait around to ask someone for help next time.”

Remember The Laws of Energy – energy is contagious. Don’t escalate. Instead, assume positive intent and approach the problem person in a way that allows them to save face. You can smooth situations with seemingly impossible coworkers with a clear and calm message and the belief that you can. Next time you are headed into a meeting with this person, picture yourself meeting with someone you really like until the actual meeting starts. Your energy will be more positive, and you will find the meeting goes smoother.  Your new-found composure will also impress others –always an added bonus!

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How do you deal with the difficult people at work? You can improve your communication skills with these AMA resources and seminars.

About The Author

Michelle Tillis Lederman, CPA, MBA, PCC, author of The 11 Laws of Likability and Heroes Get Hired, is the founder of Executive Essentials, a training company providing communications and leadership programs which she has done for Fortune 500 clients, universities and nonprofits. Michelle has appeared on CBS, Money Watch, Fox 5, and over 100 radio shows nationwide including; Gayle King, NPR, and Martha Stewart Living. She has been featured in the New York Times, Working Mother, US News & World Report,, USA Today, AOL, Forbes, CNBC, and She received her BS from Lehigh University and her MBA from Columbia Business School. Connect with Michelle on Twitter or Facebook.

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