Skip to Content

How To Deal With Difficult Personalities at Work

FREE WORKSHOP: How To Listen And Be Heard At Work

Sign up here for the free live workshop + access to the replay if you can’t make it.

May 4, 2020 at 1pm EST 


No one likes a stick co-worker situation.

No matter where you work or how much you love your job, chances are there’s probably at least one person there with a difficult personality that’s hard to get along with.

It could be a demanding boss with unreasonable expectations of you, or a grumpy coworker that flies off the handle at the smallest provocation. It could even be a client that’s hard to please or changes their mind on what they want at the last minute.

In any case, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone in these situations. We’ve all had to deal with difficult personalities at work (goodness knows I’ve had my fair share in the two years I’ve been out in the real world!) And since a majority of people – especially in 9-to-5 jobs — see their coworkers more than their families throughout the work week, it’s also important to learn how to effectively deal with these personalities so you don’t get swept up in their nonsense, or let their negativity overtake you.

Rather than stoop to their level and let yourself become a difficult personality for them to deal with in return, it’s essential to retain a calm, cool, and collected demeanor that signals your maturity — and often gives them a chance to change their behavior in return.

Here’s a couple important things to remember when dealing with difficult personalities at work:

1. People behave differently at work than they do at home. 

Think about it. When you go into work, you put on your “professional” hat. You act more serious, confident, and perhaps even assertive than you would if you were just hanging out with your friends because you know you have a job to do and you know what it takes to get it done.

Some people tend to take it a bit too far, getting wrapped up in themselves and their work. Sometimes you have to take a step back and ask yourself, “If I met this person outside work and had no idea what they were like on the job, would I want to hang out with them?” If the answer is no, then that person’s personality is probably too toxic and you should try to minimize your exposure to them unless you absolutely have to collaborate with them on something.

(If that person happens to be your boss or someone else you have to deal with on a daily basis, you may have to dig a little deeper to find a redeeming quality. I’ll expand more on that later.)

But if the answer is yes, you do think they are someone you could get along with outside work, look for opportunities to make that happen. Seek them out at corporate functions or office happy hours. Try to make a human connection with them outside of work. If you can connect with them on a personal level outside the office, chances are you’ll be able to bring that back into the office.

Your unlikely friendship that started at a happy hour could blossom into a full on work friendship that makes your relationship with that person – and the projects you have to work on with them – a smoother and more pleasant experience.

2. People work for the same basic reasons.  

We’re all driven by the same two general things: wanting to make money to support ourselves and our families, and wanting to do our jobs well so that we can continue to make money to support ourselves and our families.

With these two motivations in mind, it’s important to remember that when situations get stressful or too hard to handle, or look like they could reflect badly on you and possibly make you lose your job, it’s hard to keep your emotions in check.

That’s why some people end up taking things too seriously, as I mentioned above. They are driven by their need to succeed, and it can be difficult to work with them if they perceive you as a threat or as standing in their way of success.

In this case, its important to be open and honest with them and make sure they know that you are working toward the same — or similar — goals that they are.

Find ways to help them to make their job easier, and you may find that at some point they start returning the favor. Sometimes it’s a matter of miscommunication that can be readily solved with an open discussion of expectations and motivations.

[clickToTweet tweet=”How To Deal With Difficult Personalities at Work” quote=”How To Deal With Difficult Personalities at Work”]

3. We’re all human and none of us are perfect.

Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone slips up and lets their emotions get the best of them at the workplace. Maybe you caught the person on an off-day.

Rather than let a bad experience or two ruin your perception of them, cut them a little slack and try to understand what about them makes (or made) it difficult to work with them, and see if there’s anything you can do to help. Even if it’s just to lend a sympathetic ear.

For some people, the stress or anxiety that surrounds a person at work is too much for them to handle. And sometimes, that even has a long-lasting impact on their emotional well-being.

“…virtually every team destroyer is an unhappy person. No one tries to damage co-workers, a team, or an entire organization without being a bit emotionally damaged themselves.” – Scary Work Scenario: And I Have to Spend All Day with These People? by Suzy Welch, Oprah Magazine

If you take the time to try to understand where they are coming from, and look for redeeming, human qualities in them, you may find yourself sympathizing with them and having a better understanding of where they are coming from.

With that in mind, you can move forward in a more accommodating way — and they’ll thank you for listening. You just have to be willing to break down the barriers and get to the root of why they act the way they do.

Related: Why Spending Time in Someone Else’s Shoes Is Important

4. At the end of the day, it’s just a job. 

You don’t have to work there forever (and neither do they.) If it gets to the point where your interactions are unbearable and you’ve done everything you could to find a redeeming, human quality in them and still failed, then it may be time to keep an eye out for a new job.

Don’t subject yourself to a terrible, irreparable situation just because you think you have to. Don’t be afraid to make a change for your own happiness and well-being.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Don’t be afraid to make a change for your own happiness and well-being.” quote=”Don’t be afraid to make a change for your own happiness and well-being.”]

But if you do choose to stick around, or find that you just can’t get rid of the difficult personalities that surround you, don’t let the drudges of your job, or the battles you face with your boss, coworkers, or clients get to you. When you get home from work, rather than sit around and stew on an argument you had at work or let your anxiety run rampant about a difficult meeting or conversation you might have to have the next day, try to relax and let everything go.

Be present in your off-time so you can be more relaxed in your on-time.

Tell me, what has been your experience in dealing with a difficult personality at work? What were they like? How did you overcome the situation? Leave a comment below!

About the Author

Allison Jensen

Allison graduated from Niagara University (’15) with a degree in Marketing. She is currently working as a Sales & Marketing Assistant at a direct marketing firm. She loves The Walking Dead, Supernatural, hockey, board games, sewing, and crocheting in her free time.