Four ways to deal with difficult coworkers

by Human Capital03 Sep 2014
Everyone has experienced working with someone who is difficult, and unfortunately being in HR does not protect us from the unprofessional behaviours of others. So how can you adapt and deal with someone whose behaviour is making your tasks and job more difficult?

“The solution lies in creating a solution,” said Rhonda Scharf, of On The Right Track – Training & Consulting Inc. “By creating a strategy you will instantly feel more in control of the situation and will be better prepared to handle your difficult person professionally and calmly.”

Scharf suggested the following steps to start improving the situation:

1. Don’t give up
Sometimes we need to focus on surviving whatever crisis we are in. Maybe we are keeping the job we don’t love because we need the benefits for right now. It doesn’t have to be a life sentence. It is just for right now. We often tend to look too far into the future and say, “I can’t do this for the rest of my life.” Okay, so let’s not worry about the rest of your life, and say “I can do this for this week,” and so on.

2. Stay in control
When you let others control you, you’re writing your own death sentence. You need to continue to make the choices that keep you in control.

3. Don’t become a victim
Maybe the person has the authority to fire you, to ruin your reputation or to make your life much, much worse than it is now. That doesn’t mean you need to be their victim. Don’t allow your difficult person that much space in your life. Refuse to become their victim. Be aware of what they can or cannot do, but stop yourself from the negativity that becoming a victim perpetuates.

4. Change the situation
Create a strategy that will allow you to keep your job, keep your sanity and allow you to survive the situation. Plan your actions one day at a time (one hour at a time if appropriate). Let your strategy be your secret weapon to survival.


  • by Bernie Althofer 3/09/2014 1:14:10 PM

    Over the years, one of the issues that has come in relation to workplace bullying and the difficult worker/manager is the lack of use of organisational systems and processes to address behaviour. In addition, the other aspect that goes hand in hand with that is the lack of coaching provided across the board for managers and workers alike (irrespective of whether or not they are in HR or somewhere else).

    The four key points identified in the article are important. It is also important that individuals be provided with the knowledge and skills required to enact those points without their action resulting in adverse conflict.

    In addition, I would suggest that a key solution in solutions is actually getting the difficult person to change e.g. provide them with coaching, change the hazards or contributing factors, address the environmental issues. Unfortunately, in my experience some of the difficult workers end up believing that because no-one spoke to them about their behaviour or conduct, what they were doing was appropriate. Sometimes the behaviour has to be called for what it is.

    Given the amount of discussion regarding 'involvement' and 'the unwilling bystander', there is an increased possibility even making a decision to 'fly under the radar' or to 'keep your head down' is going to result in attention i.e. the investigator who identifies you and your action.

    That said, decisions to address the difficult person and their behaviour is never easy, and for some workers, the safest option in the short term is to keep their head down, look for alternative employment and try and avoid being a target, for they know who the person is connected to, and the 'payback' of reporting their behaviour.

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