How to deal with difficult colleagues

They say you choose your friends but not your family. Where do colleagues fit it? We spend more time with our work colleagues than we do with our friends or family yet we don’t really have a choice in who they are. You may become friends with some of them, admire a few and consider others decent co-workers. So what happens when day in day out you have to deal with difficult personalities?

As with beauty, difficult is indeed in the eye of the beholder. In this context, difficult refers to anyone who makes your life at work stressful or unpleasant, or someone who frustrates you for any number of reasons. Essentially, anyone who even by just thinking about them, you struggle not to use unpleasant adjectives!

Workplace Characters

Here are a few common “difficult” workplace personalities. Think about how many of these you have encountered or indeed, shock, horror, could you be one of them? Here are the ABCs (and Ds!) of challenging work personalities.

Always taking credit This person will never acknowledge others for their contribution. They are very happy to take the credit and lead people to believe they did it all. The first time it happens you may just consider it an innocent mistake. Bring it to their attention by saying they forgot to mention you. If it happens again it’s no accident! Market yourself and let as many people as possible know what your involvement was. Try to avoid working with this person as they will use you to their advantage and own career progression.

Blabbermouth This individual seems to know all the gossip and wants to share it. These people may be a useful to get news of what is going on in the office that may not reach you formally. The problem is not all of it will be true. They can create conflict and suspicion as they also like to discuss things behind closed doors, to give the impression they are part of everything. Just listen and don’t allow your own points of view to be affected. If they start discussing something of a really personal nature then change the subject and ignore it all together. Remember, at some point you are likely to be part of the gossip too…

Chatterbox This one is definitely the most harmless. This person will be very sociable and will probably have been the first person you spoke to and made you feel at ease in the office. The problem is their incessant chatting might be getting in the way of you getting your work done. If this is the case just be polite about it and take the blame. Say you struggle to multitask and can’t concentrate when listening to such great stuff!

Drama Queen/King There’s always one, that one person who never finds anything to be happy about. They feel the Universe conspires against them and if they’re not complaining about the company or the boss it will be about their family, friends or health. They are constantly in crisis mode and every little issue becomes a huge problem. Some of the complaints may be legitimate but the non stop moaning gets on your nerves. Chances are they don’t actually want advice, they’re just looking for someone to listen. Try changing the subject when the whining begins. Hopefully they’ll soon get the hint.

Now take a look around you at the people you work with. How many of these personalities can you identify?

What can you do about it?

Unfortunately there is no quick fix. There are however a few fundamentals that you may find useful, the 3 P’s.

Pay Attention
Listen carefully and say very little. This will prevent you from saying anything you may later come to regret. These people tend to be attention seekers in different ways so a lack of response on your part will soon bore them and they’ll move on to their next target.

We all have triggers that lead to more emotional responses. Figure out what makes your blood boil and your temperature rise. When you realise this is happening give yourself a time out. A cooling off period will help you remain uninvolved.

Pull Back
Remain impartial and neutral. Don’t allow yourself to get sucked in by these people. A technique you can try is to visualise yourself floating above the scene. Do not allow yourself to be dragged back into the scene. You make yourself a third person, an observer looking down which should help remove the heat from the situation.

Is there anything else?

Just so it’s clear I’m not advocating this for a second, however, here are a few harmless ideas on how you can return the favour of being a lovely colleague…

– Talk loudly on your mobile
– Bring in a smelly lunch
– Chew gum really loudly
– Go to work sick
– Insist on talking about religion and politics

What other type of difficult colleagues have you worked with? Do you have any habits that may annoy others? Please do share. We would love to hear your thoughts and promise not to think of you as a gossip! It will make you the best type of colleague, the selfless and wise one!

Photos provided by Flickr users: edmittance, Leo Reynolds, K W Reinsch

2,905 Responses to “How to deal with difficult colleagues”

  1. Diana says:

    Hey Ana,
    Over the years I've definitely encountered every type of colleague mentioned above. At my office at the moment I have one "A" whom I've learnt to deal with over the years, and who in turn reminded me never take credit for others – something I'm very careful about these days as I don't like doing to others what I don't like others to do to me…

    • Hey Diana.
      Many thanks for your comment. Unfortunately we all come across less pleasant colleagues at work. On the plus side it sounds like you have taken something away from this experience and I really love your approach of not doing to others what you wouldn't like to be done to you. You seem to be the sort of co-worker everyone would be lucky to have!

  2. Diana says:

    You asked about other difficult colleagues, well the one I find hardest to deal with is this one particular colleague that I have who just refuses to share information. I've tried connecting on a more personal level, I've tried asking for information verbally and written and still, every opportunity she gets, she just won't share information… Not an easy "quality" to have to deal with at work!
    Anyway, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    • Thanks for sharing another type of difficult colleague which can be found in most work places. I will refer to them as Hoarders as they do not like to share information. The reasons for this are varied. The main one however tends to be fear; fear that somehow this information will give you an unfair advantage. This person is likely to feel threatened by you and in their mind wants to compete at some level and hoarding may be their only tool. Congratulations on addressing the issue and trying different options. It is important not to avoid the “elephant in the room”. If none of your methods have worked you may wish to have a conversation in private to understand her motives. If all else fails you may need to escalate it to a superior if it is interfering with your work and performance. I would be happy to discuss with you a few tips on having potentially difficult conversations if you feel this would be useful.
      Thanks again.

  3. Faz says:

    hi,i am a supervisor.Lately,this colleague of mine is not happy abt me.My responsibilty is to make sure the operation team went smoothly.This colleagues of mine throwing negative remarks on me in front of the big boss.Negative common remarks like surfing internet,listening to radio e.g.And with this kind of remarks they r the one doing it but i get the blame.Furthermore it was nite shift,where i don't mind they listening to music or surf internet when they complete their work..Most of the job is done by me and i even assist the slow worker.They never notice that and appreciate.But this 3 colleagues attacking the supervisor where i got no defend,and this is my weak point.They doing this as for the appraisal is coming.To get attention from the boss abt me,so i will not get further credit.Need yr adv

    • Ana says:

      Thank you for sharing what seems to be a delicate situation. First and foremost let me congratulate on your role as a supervisor. I sense that you feel that the extra work you are putting in is going unnoticed and unacknowledged. Unfortunately, in many companies the culture is such that a job well done is what is expected, so there is little or no praise for good work yet a quick reprimand for any shortfall. As you mention, your colleagues seem to want to put you down in front of your boss. You also say that “this is my weak point” and maybe they have noticed this and are using it to their advantage. Based purely on what you have explained, I would say first and foremost do not allow your colleagues to know that their actions are getting to you as this is likely to be exactly what they want. Also, make sure your superiors are aware of the extra work and effort you are putting in. With your appraisal coming up this is especially significant. If things are going unnoticed just state them as very matter of fact to your boss (try not to brag). This way he will know what you are doing and your colleagues’ efforts to put you down in front of him, will be in vain. I hope this helps. If there is anything else I can support you with please do let me know.

  4. […] of bad bosses. So what makes a bad boss bad and what can you do about it? Following on from “How to Deal with Difficult Colleagues” here are the ABCs of dealing with Bad […]

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  9. Sandra says:

    I am currently in a similar situation to Faz. I’m a supervisor of 5. Two of those colleagues cause me problems. Both are incredibly nosy and constantly interfering in my work. The main irritant has already been moved on from another department for the same kind of actions. She is loudmouthed, commanding an audience, constantly undermines me in front of the directors and talks over me. My boss is aware and basically is not interested. Despite advising my colleagues I will inform them of any relevant information they require to do their jobs they continue to poke their noses in. I’m keeping a diary at the moment. Any other suggestions ?

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