How to Handle Difficult People in the Workplace

Written by Caitlin Chapman – Recruitment Consultant (Legal Support) Sydney NSW

I think it’s safe to say that we have all come across difficult personalities at one point in the workplace. Whether it be the office bully, or simply a personality that you did not get along with, it’s a common problem that can affect your mental and emotional health… but only if you let it. Learning how to deal with these difficult people, in whichever form they come, is a skill worth investing in. Below I have listed a few tips to help you handle any difficult people you may encounter in the workplace:

  1. Fight your instinct to be defensive – try very hard to remain calm (I know it feels like it’s impossible!). Your natural reaction to someone being rude or aggressive towards you will be to retaliate. Absolutely do not do this because by retaliating you are giving the person a reaction – exactly what they want! By maintaining your composure, you will let the person know that you are not bothered by them and will not stoop to their level. Remaining calm will also ensure you are able to handle the situation more effectively.
  2. Try to become more objective. Examine the issue from an unbiased viewpoint. Ensure you are approaching the situation in an unemotional way and that you are separating the person from the issue. Also, take responsibility for your actions and how you may be interpreting the issue. Confide in an outsider and seek their opinion. If this is not possible, try to imagine yourself as an outsider and how you would approach the situation.
  3. Address the situation. As tempting as it may be to avoid confrontation, if you fail to address an issue with a difficult person, it will not get better. The bully will think that what they are doing is okay and not an issue. It is essential to approach the person with whom you are having the issue in a calm and private setting and openly airing any grievances.
  4. Take responsibility for yourself, as you can only change the way you interact with the other person and not the other way. Try explaining to the person involved how you are feeling and how it is affecting you. The difficult personality may simply have been unaware of the effect that their behaviour had on you. Should it not be resolved so simply, document their behaviour so you have a record should you need to take further action.
  5. Involve your manager/HR. If you have followed the above tips without success, it is time to approach your manager/boss for assistance. This is not ‘dobbing’ as you have made every attempt to resolve the issue yourself; your boss or manager will be happy to be involved.