How to deal with difficult people in the office

Types of people you'll work with.

Do you work with someone who always tries to make you feel like you were born in a shed? A colleague who never misses an opportunity to look down at you? If you haven’t encountered the difficult or condescending colleague, you will eventually. It’s is inevitable but it all boils down to how you handle these difficult people in the office that makes all the difference.

The reality is that we’ve all been there. There are just some people we can’t stand! Perhaps it’s the Complainer whose complaining drives you to distraction. Or it may be the Aggressive person who makes you crazy – the person who pushes their ideas and never lets others get a word in edgeways. Or what about the Negativist, who won’t, can’t or just doesn’t believe in a successful outcome – “oh no, we’ve failed before we’ve even begun, we’ll never hit our targets!”

People like this can make your office life unbearable, even to the point where you wake up in the morning wishing that you were somewhere else.

Every person has his own triggers when it comes to dealing with difficult people. Those triggers stem from your background, perspectives, and from your goals in the situation at hand.  However, there are ways to deal with even the most difficult people that can bring out both their best and your best.

But before we get to that, to truly deal with difficult and annoying people, you sometimes need to put your reactions to one side and start with your powers of observation. Firstly watch, listen and understand the type of people that you could be dealing with;

  • The Aggressive: Aggressive and angry. Victims can feel paralysed, as though they’ve been flattened.
  • The Sniper: The Sniper’s forte is sarcasm, rude remarks, and eye rolls. Victims look and feel foolish.
  • The Know-It-All: Wielding great authority and knowledge, Know-It-Alls do have lots to offer, are generally competent, and can’t stand to be contradicted or corrected. But they will go out of their way to correct you.
  • The Think They Know It All: A cocksure attitude often fools people into believing their none substantiated “facts.”. They never hesitate to belittle someone else, even if that person knows their stuff in an attempt to feel powerful or better than the other in the eyes of their colleagues around them.
  • The Time Bomb: Time bombs types tend to explode into uncontrolled ranting and raving that has little, if anything, to do with what has actually happened.
  • The Yes Person: Someone who wants to please others so much that they never says no. This is a borderline Yes Man.
  • The Maybe Person: Procrastinating, hoping to steer clear of choices that will hurt feelings, they avoids decisions, productive or assertive discussions, causing plenty of frustration along the way.
  • The Silent type: This person offers only a blank stare, no verbal or non-verbal signals. If there was a avatar beside the dictionary definition of “zombie”, this persons mugshot would be right there.
  • The Negavisist: He spreads doom, gloom, and despair whenever any new ideas arise, or even when old ones are recycled. This person saps energy from a group in an amazingly short period of time.
  • The Complainer: Complainers feel helpless most of the time and become overwhelmed by the unfairness of it all. They want things to be perfect, but nothing seems to go right. Complainers want to share their misery but fail to see that in almost all cases they need to stop wishing it was easier, wish that they were better and do something about it.

Many of these types of people above can be condescending.  In fact, you’ll know immediately when you’re in the presence of a difficult or condescending colleague and the chances are you have had to deal with at least a few of these characters. There’s a tone in the voice and a certain look in the eyes, as if they’re wondering how you manage to button your shirt in the morning without an idiots guide.

When it comes to know-it-all colleagues, what maybe most grating about them is that they usually know about as much as you do (or less) but try to pass themselves off as the office guru. So what should you do when you have to deal with a difficult colleague in the office?

How to deal with difficult people in the office

1. Is it just you? Is your colleague like this with everyone in the office (external customers/clients included) or do they save up a bucket list of useless pointers and menial projects just for you? If everyone gets the same treatment, then this person is a garden-variety Cornholio. If it’s just you, then there’s a bigger problem at play. Which brings us to Tip #2.

2. Fight with intelligence. So a colleague or a manager in your office wants to constantly question your abilities? Don’t take it laying down; stand up for yourself. Tweak this co-worker a little when he or she tries to explain the very basics of your job yet again – “Oh yes, the filing cabinet? That thing invented in 1898 by Edwin G. Seibels while he was employed at his father’s insurance firm?”. Don’t be afraid to take your smarts to town when your colleague is trying to pigeonhole you as the village idiot. Don’t get mad, get witty. Stay calm, flash your smarts and reveal a sense of confidence in yourself and your abilities. No one else in the office is going to do this for you, unfortunately. Wikipedia and Google are your friends. Use them as necessary.

3. Be more proactive. Some victims will clam up and retreat into a shell in the face of this problem and start to accept their perceived inabilities as the “The Law” (Use the voice of Judge Dredd here) for as long as they’re with the company they are employed at. This strategy only makes things worse, of course. If you think a work-delegating colleague or manager doesn’t trust you with certain projects, volunteer to take one on the next time it’s up for grabs.

This opens the door for you to show off your skill set and to say how you’d like to take on new assignments. At the very least, the colleague you are working with will see that you’re willing to fight for what you believe in (e.g., yourself and your abilities). Your other colleagues will see that you can take a stand too, gaining new-found respect, which could have the much-needed effect of shifting the office paradigm a little bit. “Maybe Dave” isn’t such a talentless, spineless, ridiculous, gollom-looking pushover after all.”

Good communication is key and if you get the assignment, make it your best work ever.

4. What to ignore. The know-it-all colleague could be saying condescending or plain disrespectful things all day long, every day and to be honest, they are not going to change overnight, if ever. You’ll have to decide what to ignore and what to confront.

For example, if they chide your lunch decisions “Oh, you don’t eat organic?” that’s one thing. Go to your happy place or to the kitchen to cool off and refill your drink. Sometimes it’s just not worth it. If this colleague starts offering unwanted basic pointers about your job, however, that’s another thing. You could say, “I know that already, but thanks for the suggestion”.

Pick your battles and save your rapid fire for the most important ones.

5. Never ask for their opinion. You’ll only feed the beast and open the door to even more condescending advice. This goes for work-related matters as well as personal matters. Ask this difficult colleague’s opinion, and they will walk away thinking you really want/need/enjoy their random and unwelcome bits of knowledge and advice.

Oh no, the horror! Ask someone else. Anyone else.

6.  Just because you know something doesn’t mean you have to tell someone. There is a time to correct someone and a time to just let it go. It’s important to understand the difference between a fact and an opinion in the office environment. When you hear a conversation and someone says something you know to be wrong, pause a moment to consider if it is really necessary to correct them.

In the workplace debates are not always appropriate. If you want to vent, join a forum or start a blog or something.

This doesn’t mean don’t EVER say a word. Sometimes weighing up the possible embarrassment or anger it causes, and whether what I’m correcting is a factual error or a disagreeable opinion. Life’s too short to correct trivial errors and get into pointless debates. If you are going to get into it with a colleague or anyone for that matter make sure it is important.

Conclusion. In order to work with different types of people regardless of the type of office environment you are in or even if you own a business, you need to return to the concept of a basic orientation toward people or task.

Ultimately the difficult people in the office are not odd or weird people. An honest examination may even reveal you to be one of them – surprise surprise! Everyone has the potential to be difficult given the right, or wrong, circumstances. Couple that with the typical ways people respond under pressure, on a continuum from aggressive to assertive to passive. Then add in the goals people have under different circumstances.

When someone knows something about everything it is a clue that their experience is limited.

Listening is a harder skill than talking, which is ironic since we have more organs to listen (two ears) and less to talk with (one mouth). 

If you are a “know-it-all”, take note!  You might just learn something.

Note: Some people types sources from: Dealing With People You Can’t Stand by Rick Brinkman and Rick Kirschner, worth the read.

1 Comment

  1. Great article mate! you raised great points, especially the office people types.

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