Managing Difficult Co-workers - Often More Difficult than Relations with the Boss

Oct 20 07:36 2008 Christine Casey-Cooper Print This Article

Difficult people and difficult co-workers will always be with us, but how we handle them is what makes the difference. We can't control others, but we can control ourselves. Here are some tips for handling difficult people at work.

Hal,Guest Posting a gear expert, was hired to bring gear expertise to the engineering department. A requirement to survive crash test on car seats required a demo of pull-out resistance on the motor shaft. Until now, this was a difficult test to pass. Hal saw a solution in the form of added stiffener ribs. He was interacting with the design engineer, who was working the problem on CAD. The engineer's supervisor walked by, and reacted: "What are you trying to do - step on my toes?" In the end, the solution of the problem was the added ribs, but it came about in the face of unfriendly talk.

Hal had overstepped his limits, and he was consulting outside the chain of command, but he was doing what came naturally, talking engineer talk in the open as engineers are wont to do. Challenging people and difficult co-workers will always be with us, but how we handle the challenge is what matters. They can be characterized in various ways:

The Snake - This difficult person gossips and criticizes and causes public disagreements to emerge in the office atmosphere. This can pollute personal relations and the office environment, and bring the organization into disrepute.

The Shark - Similar to the snake, this difficult co-worker acts subversively. He withholds information, gives poor excuses for incomplete work, and harasses colleagues.

The Wild Cat - This difficult co-worker is often unseen at work, withholds information, and gives ridiculous excuses for incomplete work or poor performance. Defensive in their stance, these types will refuse work, sabotage other?s work, and reject being managed. They attract undue management time, and cause stress and frustration.

The Hyena - This difficult person is rude, aggressive, domineering and negative about people. He blames others and never takes responsibility for his own actions. Others complain and become tense and disaffected. Sickness and absenteeism can follow.

The insidious thing about these types of difficult people is that we also may fill the roles described to some extent. Where difficulties abound, your boss may identify you as the problem and cause you to lose your job. Clearly, this problem of dealing with difficult people needs to be addressed before it gets out of control. One generally tries to avoid these types of difficult co-workers, but often that is not possible. It can magnify your stress. Here are some tips:

Stand up to overly aggressive people - Like the hyena, stand up to them, but don't fight. Overly aggressive people expect others to run away or react with rage. Assertively express your views, and avoid the battle of right and wrong. Allow the person to run out of steam, then address him by name and give your views with confidence.

Beware of bad bosses - Bosses are in charge, and you will have to learn to get along with a difficult boss. If you need to discuss issues, don't put your boss on the defensive. This is flirting with danger to your career.

Take action - Deciding to live with the situation long term is not a good option. Things will not improve until you do something about it. Let the difficult co-worker know that you don't want continued conflict, and that you will bring this up to management if necessary.

Don't let the problem aggravate - Take action swiftly. You could eventually become so angry that you have an irrational response towards the difficult person. It is far better to tackle the problem while you can maintain some objectivity and emotional control.

Never play the difficult co-worker's game - Do not send anonymous notes, gossip or complain to the boss. Avoid this demeaning behavior.

Make the first move - If you believe that the other person could be interested in restoring harmony, you can make the first move. Start with "I'm sorry for what I may have done to hurt you," or "I could have been wrong."

Preserve your reputation - Constant complaining about difficult people could earn you the title 'office grouch' and could get you labeled as the difficult co-worker. Managers may wonder whether you can solve your own problems. If you are embroiled in constant conflict at work, you may be blamed for other unrelated problems, too.

You can agree to disagree - If you personally dislike a co-worker or boss, there is still something to learn from their opinions and ideas. If there is something to appreciate, comment on it in a favorable way. Remember, it's always better to keep your urge to fight in check and refuse to be part of the duel. Sure, you need to stand up for yourself, but do so without demanding that you be above criticism. Your goal should be to save your own hide, as well as the time, energy, and hassle associated with workplace conflict.

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About Article Author

Christine Casey-Cooper
Christine Casey-Cooper

Christine Casey-Cooper is a leadership coach an author of the satirical book The Crass Captain's Quick Guide to Management Dysfunction. Visit for leadership and management advice, and some bad boss advice from the Crass Captain.

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