10 powerful strategies to help you deal with difficult people at work

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

We all know that work can sometimes be tough. There are easy days, and then there are hard days, especially when we have to deal with difficult people.

If you’ve been struggling with this, you’re not alone. 

This article will give you 10 powerful strategies to handle those tricky individuals at work.

By the end of this, you’ll be better equipped to make your workdays less stressful and more productive.

So, let’s get started on making your working relationships smoother and easier!

1. Practice Empathy

Remember that everyone has their own struggles and battles that you may not know about.

Maybe your co-worker is going through a tough time personally, or they’re under a lot of stress.

By practicing empathy, you can try to understand where they’re coming from.

This doesn’t mean you have to accept rude or inappropriate behavior, but understanding their perspective can help you address the situation better.

Try to put yourself in their shoes and think about how you would feel.

Are they acting out because they’re overwhelmed? Or perhaps they’re dealing with something difficult outside of work?

It could be anything. Understanding this will help you respond more effectively and less reactively.

Remember, empathy isn’t about making excuses for other people’s behavior; it’s about understanding the context and dealing with the situation in a more compassionate way.

2. Set Boundaries

Know your limits and make them clear.

If someone is constantly interrupting you during work hours or expecting you to take on more than your fair share, it’s time to speak up.

Politely, but firmly, let them know what is and isn’t acceptable.

This might feel a bit uncomfortable, especially if you’re not used to standing up for yourself, but it’s crucial for maintaining a healthy work environment.

You can say something like, “I need to focus on my own work during these hours. Can we find a different time to discuss this?”

Remember, setting boundaries isn’t about being hostile; it’s about respecting your own needs and ensuring others do too.

It’s okay to say no when you need to, and doing so might even earn you some respect from those difficult individuals.

3. Keep Calm and Carry On

One thing I’ve learned from my own experiences is that it’s essential to stay calm when dealing with difficult people.

I remember a time when I had a co-worker who seemed to enjoy pushing my buttons. They would constantly make snide remarks and try to provoke me into an argument.

At first, I would get really upset and would spend hours stressing about it.

But then, I realized something important – by reacting to their behavior, I was giving them exactly what they wanted.

So, I decided to take a different approach. I started practicing calm responses.

Instead of lashing back or getting defensive, I would respond with a simple, “Thank you for your feedback,” or “I’ll take that into consideration.”

This helped me maintain my composure and didn’t fuel the fire.

The result? They soon realized their tactics weren’t working, and eventually, their behavior changed for the better.

So remember, sometimes the best response is to stay calm and not let difficult people disrupt your peace.

4. Improve Your Communication Skills

How we communicate with our colleagues plays a huge role in our work experience.

When dealing with difficult people, it’s especially important to speak clearly and assertively. Be specific about the issue at hand and how it impacts you.

For example, instead of saying, “You’re always so negative,” try saying, “When you speak negatively about this project, it makes it harder for me to stay motivated.”

Also, make sure to listen. Good communication isn’t just about speaking; it’s also about listening to understand.

So even if it’s tough, try to listen to what the difficult person is saying. You might discover a solution that you hadn’t considered before.

Improving your communication skills can go a long way in diffusing tension and making your interactions with difficult people more manageable.

5. Choose Your Battles

When it comes to dealing with difficult people at work, it’s crucial to remember that not every battle is worth fighting.

It’s easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment and feel like you need to respond to every negative comment or confrontation.

But honestly, that’s not always the best approach.

Sometimes, it’s better to let things go.

If the issue at hand is minor and doesn’t really affect your work or well-being, it might be worth it to just breathe and move on.

I know it can be tough – we all want to stand our ground and defend ourselves.

But trust me, it takes a lot of strength and courage to choose peace over being right.

Remember, your peace of mind is precious. Don’t let anyone or anything at work take that away from you.

So next time you’re faced with a difficult situation or person, ask yourself: “Is this battle worth my peace?”

If the answer is no, then it’s okay to step back and let it go. You’re not being weak; you’re being wise.

6. Seek Advice and Support

When I first started dealing with a particularly challenging colleague, I felt like I was facing a wall. I felt stuck and didn’t know how to handle the situation. It was during this time that I decided to seek advice from a mentor at work.

I shared my experiences and concerns, and they provided me with some great insights.

They pointed out patterns in my colleague’s behavior that I hadn’t noticed before and suggested new ways of reacting that could deescalate the situation.

This support was invaluable for me. Not only did it give me new strategies to handle the situation, but it also reassured me that I wasn’t alone in this.

So, don’t hesitate to reach out to someone you trust when you’re dealing with difficult people at work. It could be a mentor, a manager, or even a friend who’s been in a similar situation.

Their advice and support can provide you with a fresh perspective and might just be the help you need to navigate your way through.

7. Don’t Take It Personally

Some people are just… difficult. They might be having a bad day, week, month or even a bad year. Or maybe they are just unhappy in their personal lives and are projecting their frustrations onto others.

Whatever it is, it’s crucial to understand that their behavior is about them, not you.

I know it’s easier said than done. It can sting when someone throws a harsh word your way or constantly criticizes your work.

But you’ve got to try your best not to take it to heart.

Remember, you’re at work to do your job, not to please everyone around you.

As long as you’re doing your best and acting professionally, that’s what truly matters.

Don’t let someone else’s negativity define your self-worth or dampen your spirit.

You’re bigger than that!

8. Use Humor as a Defense

Did you know that humor can be a powerful tool for diffusing tension?

Using humor doesn’t mean making light of serious issues or not taking your work seriously.

Instead, it means using levity to navigate through tense situations or to disarm difficult people.

For example, if someone is constantly negative, you might say something like, “Wow, you’re really going for the ‘Most Optimistic Person of the Year’ award, aren’t you?”

Of course, it’s important to use humor appropriately. It should never be used to insult or belittle someone else.

But when used correctly, a little bit of humor can go a long way in making your interactions with difficult people a lot more bearable.

9. Learn to Forgive

In my experience, one of the most liberating things you can do when dealing with difficult people at work is to learn to forgive.

And by forgiveness, I don’t mean that you forget or condone their behavior.

I remember a time when I had a co-worker who was particularly hard on me. It reached a point where I dreaded going to work because of them.

But then, I realized that holding onto my resentment was only harming me, not them.

So, I decided to forgive. Not because they deserved it, but because I deserved peace.

I acknowledged my feelings, understood where they were coming from, and then let it go. It wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight, but it was worth it.

Remember, forgiveness is for you.

It’s about freeing yourself from the burden of carrying around negative feelings. It’s about making the conscious decision to let go of the anger and resentment so you can move forward and focus on more positive and productive things at work.

10. Realize You Can’t Change Others

You can’t change other people. You can’t control how they act, what they say, or how they feel. What you can control is how you respond to them.

I’ve seen many colleagues waste energy trying to ‘fix’ the difficult person at their workplace. It’s like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole; it just doesn’t work.

People will only change when they’re ready and willing to do so. And guess what? That’s not on you.

So, instead of exhausting yourself trying to change them, focus on managing your own reactions. It’s about being proactive rather than reactive.

Change your perspective, change your responses, and you’ll find dealing with difficult people becomes a lot easier.

And finally…

11. Know When to Walk Away

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, there’s just no getting through to some people.

If you’ve tried everything and the situation is still negatively impacting your work or mental health, it may be time to consider whether it’s worth staying in that environment.

You deserve a workplace where you’re respected and valued.

So if that’s not happening where you are, don’t be afraid to explore other options. It might seem scary, but trust me, your well-being is worth it.

Remember, dealing with difficult people at work isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about maintaining your peace, productivity, and well-being in an environment that can sometimes be challenging.

Did you like my article? Like me on Facebook to see more articles like this in your feed.

Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

If you haven’t reached your full potential, these 8 habits could be why

If you really want to become a better person, say goodbye to these 10 habits