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.

Temp Etiquette – How to Pull Out of a Temp Assignment

Whether you’re in between permanent jobs, looking for some casual work while studying, or wanting to make some money before your next overseas trip, the flexibility that temping offers makes it a great option for job seekers in many different situations. But that doesn’t mean it should be taken for granted! In today’s job market, temp staff are a luxury, and businesses only use temps when they have stretched all other resources as far as they’ll go. quit-temp-assignment

So, if you’ve been lucky enough to secure some temp work but find that you’re no longer able to honour your commitment, here are a few tips to keep in mind to make sure you’re going about it the right way:

  1. Be up front right from the start. Whether you’ve secured an interview for a permanent position, you’ve got some holidays booked, or you have an exam coming up – let your recruiter know before agreeing to the assignment. It might seem insignificant at the time, but they can manage the process best if they have all the information.
  2. Be honest. Recruiters have heard all the excuses in the book – from family emergencies to hitting a kangaroo with your car! You will be more likely to be offered further temp work if you tell the truth about your reasons and own the situation.
  3. Pick up the phone. It might be easier to send through a quick email or text message, but do the right thing and make a phone call to your recruiter to let them know what’s happened.
  4. Give as much notice as possible. You can’t help it if you wake up on the day of your assignment feeling sick, but wherever possible, give your recruiter the opportunity to replace you so the client isn’t left in the lurch. Even if it’s after hours or on the weekend.

Keeping these simple things in mind will ensure you maintain a good relationship with your recruiter and are offered further assignments in the future.

Erin Horan


Today is world kindness day.  This day is celebrated as it is the anniversary of the opening day of the first World Kindness Movement ® conference, held in Tokyo in 1998.

The official purpose of World Kindness Day is to “look beyond ourselves, beyond the boundaries of our country, beyond our culture, our race, our religion; and realise we are citizens of the world” (for more information visit the official website)world-kindness-day

Isn’t it a shame that we have to have a day dedicated to kindness, in a world where we are all rushing from one thing to another.  It is easy to forget the simple things that make for a happy workplace.  One of these things is the simple act of kindness to others.

Aesop once famously said:

No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted”. 

Think about those nine words.  It is such a simple statement – not just the number of words but also the truth of those words.

When we show kindness to others, we invariably receive a ‘thank you’ in return.  The impact on our mood in giving the gift of kindness, and receiving gratitude, is immeasurable, although scientists and psychologists are doing their best to measure it.  Recent studies have shown that kindness is contagious – and this Huffington post article explains a little about that.   Plus it has a bonus scene from my all-time favourite Christmas movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.

So if kindness is contagious, imagine if all people in the office decided to practice a random act of kindness for a colleague every single day – what an amazing workplace that would be.

There are many ways you can practice kindness to your colleagues, and not all of them take time or effort.  The simple act of holding the lift as the doors are closing, for someone rushing to catch it, is an act of kindness.  As is opening the door for someone carrying a heap of heavy files.

I asked some of my colleagues to tell me their favourite way of showing kindness to others.  I can’t publish all of them as this blog post would be too long so here is a selection:

Sherri Hodson  – Chocolate (yum)

Carla Thomas – By remembering what they like and showing an interest in their interests.

Kara Plummer – Chocolate (double yum)

Ashton Bradley – Asking how people are, holding open doors, leaving communal areas tidy & smiling.

Shae Sivyer – Smiling, compassion & showing them you care.

Caitlin Chapman – By always greeting and saying goodbye to each colleague genuinely and instigating a conversation on how the person’s day is or how their night was.

Davina Wenzlick – A smile and a word of kindness.

Nelly Cham – Going the extra mile for a colleague

Paul Turk – Make them a cup of tea (all cups of tea taste better when made by someone else! – ed)

Shonnea Nicol – Always treat people the way you want to be treated.

Caitlin Grimmer – Giving compliments & congratulating on good things happening

Clare Hammond – always smiling and saying hello

Karen Waldock – Do unto others as you would like them to do  to you.

How are you going to show your colleagues kindness today?


If you are lucky enough to have a mentoring program in your workplace, you should take advantage of this as mentoring has been proved to be integral to the career success. As a mentee you are not a ‘passenger’ in the relationship and you have to manage the relationship collaboratively with your mentor.

Here are our tips for making the most of mentors:

Know what you want out of a mentoring relationship

Be clear about what you need for your career and how you think the mentor can help you. What skills do you need to develop, both personally and professionally? Make sure your mentor is someone who can help you in those areas.

Set some goalsMentors

You mustn’t go into a mentoring relationship without some career goals – having said that, your mentor can help you clarify your goals and refine and define them with you.

Agree on structure of meetings and timings

Plan and set meeting times; bearing in mind that your mentor is no doubt a very busy person, and you will need to build some flexibility into set schedules, to take account of busy times and last minute urgent matters.

Be Prepared

Don’t waste your mentor’s time by going to meetings unprepared and making the mentor do all the hard work! Review your notes from the last meeting, and make notes of things you want to talk about, especially what you have achieved since the previous meeting.

Listen and Follow through

Active listening is a vital skill to learn – ask questions to clarify, look at body language to clarify the message being given. Follow through on suggestions made by your mentor – if you continually fail to follow through, you are not only letting your mentor down, you are letting yourself down.

Being proactive, willing to listen, acting on advice and not wasting your mentor’s time will ensure a successful mentoring relationship.

Combating Negative Behaviour

Even the smartest and most successful people will naturally have at least a handful of bad habits in the work place. These negative behaviours don’t in themselves make you a terrible person or a bad employee, but can prevent you from fulfilling what would otherwise be your potential. The secret is to recognise and identify these traits so that you can combat them and turn them into positives.

After a quick survey in our own office here are our top ‘bad habit’ picks and how to address them;

  1. Putting things off rather than doing them straight away.

It can be very tempting to put tasks that you don’t enjoy so much to one side and prioritise your more favourable tasks. However this habit can hurt you in a work setting, especially if you end up having to complete a task in a rush to meet a deadline,  comprising the quality and standard of your work. Make sure you are prioritising your work according to urgency and where possible complete your less favoured tasks first, that way they are off your desk and you can move on!

  1. Not asking for help.

It can be easy to feel that you are making yourself look stupid by asking questions, however quite the opposite is usually true. By not asking questions where you require clarity you can increase the risk of errors and can also make yourself look unengaged and uninterested in the task in hand. Ask questions freely but make sure that they are relevant to the task and make a note of the answer so you only have to ask once!

  1. Being negative in the workplace.

Some of us can fall into the pattern of habitually gossiping or complaining without even realising that we are doing it. This can impact on the whole office and can also be a headache for your manager who will usually be tasked with ensuring their teams are contributing to positive morale. A good approach if you have a complaint is to speak with your manager directly, in private rather than involve the office and remember positivity breeds positivity.

  1. Consistently running late.

If you constantly arrive late to work, or return late from breaks, it can give an impression of  complacency and carelessness. It can also be aggravating to staff who do ensure they arrive at their desk in a timely manner as not only are they then putting in more hours than you they may also find themselves picking up calls or even extra work in your absence. Be prompt or even a bit early to show that you are time conscious and that you care about your job and other people’s time.

  1. Thinking that you have all the answers.

No matter how long you’ve been with a company or how well you know your role, the day you’re no longer open to learning is the day you stop moving forward. Growth happens when you change and try new things. Make the effort to continue to learn from those around you and do all you can to embrace new information or ways of doing things.

Basically we all have little annoying habits but as long as you recognise these and work to replace them with positive workplace routines you can prevent them negatively effecting you and even turn them into positives!

Email Salutations – How is your message received?

I know a lawyer who occasionally gets a rush of blood to the head and goes into the office very early in the morning to clear her inbox and generally catch up on outstanding administration. Emails are sent to junior lawyers with words like:

  • “see below – can you check into the question for the client thanks”
  • “ where are you up to with the ABC file”
  • “How far away is that research I asked you to do”
  • “don’t forget it’s billing this week – get your timesheets in today”
  • “fyi”

She thinks she is being incredibly efficient, running through her emails; but what do the junior lawyers think?emails

They probably think she is being rude and obnoxious, particularly if they come in to work and find three or four emails in a row sent at 5am, all like this.

Email is here to stay – it is used more and more as the preferred method of communication in workplaces – oftentimes people will send an email to the person sitting in the next office, rather than get up and walk next door to speak to the person, but that is a topic for another day.

But imagine if the lawyer in this story went to the door of the junior lawyer and said the things in the emails above and walked away? The junior lawyers would think she was even more obnoxious and rude.

So think carefully when sending this sort of abrupt email. She was not intending to be abrupt, but that is certainly the message that was being received. As much as we can defend ourselves and say we didn’t intend to be rude, the fact is that how our message is received, rather than sent is most important.

So to avoid having the wrong message being interpreted the sure fire way to improve your email communication is to always start with a salutation, and don’t rush the email. The salutation will vary depending on the person to whom it is directed. A simple “Hi” might do if it is someone with whom you are familiar. Using someone’s name – with or without a ‘Dear’ in front of it is another way of opening an email. If it is a Monday morning, a longer “hi – hope you had a good weekend’ is not only is good email etiquette but good manners (even if you are not actually that interested).

Even if you are good friends with someone, NEVER send an email starting ‘Hey b***h’ or something similarly hideous.

For emails going out of the office, play it safe and use the salutation “Dear’ in all correspondence – not only is it polite, but because your emails can end up annexed to an affidavit, it is safe.

People will read all sorts of things into the smallest detail of an email – make sure the message they are getting is the right one by framing your email salutation politely and professionally. For a more in depth look at this see the Forbes article.

What do you think? Are we being too old fashioned?

What sort of flexibility suits you?

We have written before about flexible workplaces and its many benefits for both employer and employee.  You can read those articles here (  Formal flexibility is not for every employee, yet informal flexible work arrangements can work for everyone.  With the rush of modern life, we all seem to have more and more responsibilities, pulling us in every direction.  And let’s be honest not all medical specialists take appointments outside of normal office hours!work life balance

In best practice, formal flexible work is covered by a written policy, but informal flexible work is an attitude and approach rather than a formal process requiring forms to be filled out.

In truly flexible workplaces, informal, infrequent requests for flexibility do not require changes to your terms of employment and are arranged between you and your supervisor.   These are usually one-off or irregular occurrences.  Some examples of informal flexibility might include:

  • Starting late to attend a child’s first day of school (employers please note this is a really cool thing to do for your staff)
  • Leaving work early to attend a special school concert or medical appointment
  • Working from home occasionally to complete a project without any distractions
  • Working non-standard hours on occasion  (allowing a later start or earlier finish) to accommodate an external commitment (e.g. specialist medical appointment)
  • Being given time off in lieu for working significant overtime on a project
  • Allowing brief time off to observe significant religious or spiritual festivals
  • For non-parents, emergency veterinary visits
  • Allowing longer lunch breaks for special occasions
  • Early finish times ahead of long weekends or the Christmas break

Where informal flexible work practices are provided to you, it is important to remember the fact that the principle of reciprocity applies – that is, when you have the chance to give back to your employer, or your work colleagues, you should do so.  Some employers may require the time to be made up – if that is the case make sure you do this as soon as practicable, as this will develop trust and respect.

Even where formal flexible work is provided, it does not have to be permanent – it can be very short term or temporary. For example:

  • Working part-time or flexible hours while undergoing treatment for serious illness – radiation or other treatments may need to be undertaken on a regular basis at the same time every day for a set period of time
  • Working part-time to assist a close relative with a serious illness – eldercare is becoming a more pressing issue for baby boomers
  • Returning to work after serious illness or injury that is not work related – a formal return to work program is required if your injury is work related, but if you have been ill, or have had an accident, you might need to consider reduced hours before returning to work full time.

We all crave the ability to manage our many responsibilities – having a flexible workplace and a commitment to work hard at making it work will ensure we are all able to do this.

Cultural Diversity in the Workplace

Australia is a multicultural society. Almost half of our population was born overseas or has a parent who was born overseas. One in five of us speak a non-English language at home. It’s important that this rich cultural diversity of our everyday lives be reflected in our workplace.cultural diversity

What does cultural diversity in our workplace mean? Workplace diversity means creating an inclusive environment that accepts each individual’s differences, embraces their strengths and provides opportunities for all employees to achieve their full potential. The importance of cultural diversity in the workplace cannot be stressed enough. Valuing the differences of each employee allows them to contribute their own unique experiences to the workplace.  This can impact positively on both the environment and relationships within the workplace as well as externally e.g. relationships with customers and clients.

In Australia it is unlawful to discriminate an employee (or a prospective employee) in the workplace because of a protected attribute. Protected attributes include race, colour, sex, sexual preference, age, pregnancy, religion and social origin. Therefore, for example, you cannot fire an employee because of their sexual preference.

Diversity in the workplace should be seen as a valuable resource for an organization, not simply because the law prescribes certain obligations. A company known for its ethics, transparent recruitment and employment practices and appreciation for diverse talent will always attract a wider pool of qualified candidates. Moreover, a company that actively engages in cultural diversity will be rewarded with loyalty from clients who prefer to do business only with companies that are socially responsible. A culturally diverse workplace will enable you to broaden your client base and in the long term increase your profitability. Cultural diversity will also lead to the retention of valuable staff and maintain high staff morale. Undoubtedly, costs associated with high staff turnover will be reduced.

Below are some tips for employers in creating a culturally diverse workplace:

  • Discuss diversity with your employees, highlighting the benefits of having a diverse and inclusive workplace;
  • Ensure flexible work options are available to all employees, including parental leave policies for both men and women;
  • Be aware of different cultural practices and special needs of employees and make workplace adjustments;
  • Identify and address any unconscious bias in the recruitment of potential employee.
  • Value individual skills that employees bring, including language skills and international experience.
  • Take steps to address and prevent discrimination and harassment in your workplace.

By law, employers are responsible for their employee’s physical and psychological health and well-being and should encourage tolerance and respect for cultural differences in the workplace.

Managing Work Life Balance

Workplace flexibility has become an essential component of any attraction and retention strategy. In fact, flexibility in the workplace is one of the key factors in maintaining an employee’s motivation, loyalty and commitment to their employer.Managing your balance

Certain employees have the right to request flexible working arrangements. Employers can only refuse these requests on reasonable business grounds. An example of a flexible working arrangement can include a change in location (e.g. working from home) or a change in hours of work (e.g. changes to start and finish times).

Under current law, employees who have worked with the same employer for at least 12 months can request flexible working arrangements if they:

  • are the parent, or have responsibility for the care, of a child who is school aged or younger;
  • are a carer (under the Carer Recognition Act 2010);
  • have a disability;
  • are 55 or older;
  • are experiencing family or domestic violence; or
  • provide care or support to a member of their household or immediate family who requires care and support because of family or domestic violence.

An employer can only refuse a request for flexible working arrangements on reasonable business grounds. An example of a reasonable business ground is the requested arrangements are too costly or other employees’ working arrangements can’t be changed to accommodate the request.

Outside of the categories regulated by law, “Employers of Choice” are allowing other employees to alter their working arrangements either on an ad hoc basis or on a more permanent basis. Today is the age of the “digital worker” and half of Australia’s working population use the internet to work from home or on the go. Many employers recognise that there can be many benefits in an employee working from home e.g. more often than not workers who work from home don’t work a standard 9am to 5pm day but end up working longer hours and thus there is increased opportunities to get the work done.

Additionally, there are financial benefits to employers having employees work from home. Employers with a home workforce (or part home workforce) save money on overheads, desk space and absenteeism at work becomes a non-issue.

Given the law surrounding flexible working arrangements, it is therefore necessary for employers to implement an ongoing communication strategy to ensure employees are aware of workplace flexibility, and managers and staff know what is available and how a flexible work arrangement can be established.

The development of a flexible work strategy will contribute to an organisation’s “Employer Brand” and will greatly assist in the attraction and retention of staff.