How to Best Handle Difficult Co-Workers, or Difficult Bosses


Learning how to work in an environment with difficult co-workers or a tricky boss is a critical skill worth developing; it’s 100% certain you will continue to encounter them throughout your career in one way or another. Previously, you might have just decided the best strategy would be to move on to new pastures. However, in the current economic market, this might not be possible or indeed advisable. So what should you do to preserve your career and your sanity?

Let’s first address how remote working might affect how you handle difficult co-workers or a tricky boss. An increase in working from home and the reduction in face-to-face contact may actually temporarily diminish the effect of difficult colleagues or bosses. However, the communication challenges associated with remote working can throw up specific new issues. So, to avoid misunderstandings that can fester and grow into animosity, it’s important to keep in mind 3 principles: prioritize verbal conversations as much as you can; understand that virtual communication can be difficult for everyone; and finally, try not to make assumptions. Having an open mind and a “blank slate” policy about your colleagues or your boss will avoid facilitating conflict.

Be optimistic

One tactic to survive working with difficult colleagues or bosses is to distance yourself from the situation at hand. Trying to look on the bright side diffuses the power of a situation and can help you gain valuable perspective. If you can set yourself goals to achieve in difficult moments by saying to yourself that you can get through today, for example, it will be much more beneficial to your mental and physical health. If you can laugh at the situation then even better!

Keep calm

Does having a conversation with a co-worker or your boss make you want to blow a gasket? If so, it’s time to step back and take a deep breath. Maintaining your composure will enable you to better judge the situation, and avoid giving any ammo to the other party - especially if it’s your boss! You need to be clever about how you present yourself in any situation and your own behavior - the only one you can control - will be your biggest lever. Better to schedule a private conversation with a colleague, or try and build your relationship with your boss by understanding their motives than lose credibility by letting them get to you.

Can you talk it out?

Bob Sutton, an organizational psychologist and New York Times best-selling author who describes difficult co-workers as “office jerks” says they broadly fall into two categories -- those who are behaving badly to get ahead, and those who are simply clueless about the impact of their behavior. The latter is easier to deal with, and sometimes all it can take is a well-judged gentle word with them to explain how you feel when they do A, B or C, and could they possibly change their behavior? They may not even realize what they are doing and in the best-case scenario, they will adapt upon receiving feedback.

Stand up for yourself

If all else fails and after exhausting all other options, you may feel the only option left is to make your complaint more formal by taking it to HR or your boss -depending on with whom the issue lies. If you are going to do that you will need evidence, and be certain of your position before you begin with allies alongside you and the appropriate documentation. Even if you are in the right with support behind you, after allegations become formal things can change irrevocably so do think carefully before making that step.

Hopefully, prolonged encounters with difficult people at work will be limited, as it can be incredibly demoralizing. Remember the tips above, and try not to give too much of your precious time to drama or office politics. Move onwards and upwards! ____________________________ Looking to grow your team in 2021? See how we can accelerate your time to revenue for new hires and deliver up to a 3.5:1 return on your investment in our services. Click here!


Featured Articles...