5 Difficult People and How to Work With Them

I believe that people are the most stressful part of any job. That sounds harsh. After all, most people are the best part of any job, providing social interaction and supporting skills. But others… well, some are so difficult to deal with that they present an obstacle to you being at your best. Wouldn’t it be so easy just to ignore them? But the truth is that to be successful in your career, you have to be able to work with difficult people effectively. Fortunately, learning how to work well with difficult people is a skill that can be learned.

Here are five common colleagues people complain about. Keep in mind that you will not be able to change them and most likely you won’t even be able to exert a significant influence on their behavior. Approach these situations from the mindset of not ‘how can I change them?’ but with the mindset of ‘how can I change myself in order to work better with them?’

The Blatant Slacker

The slacker simply doesn’t like to work. They push their responsibilities on to everyone else around them. They show little initiative and deadlines are merely suggestions to them.

Why does this bother you? When they do produce work, to put it mildly, it embarrasses you. It requires so much effort to eek out any productivity from the slacker that often people around them give up trying and pull the extra weight themselves. The problem is, you don’t have the authority to fire them and your boss either can’t or is unwilling to do so.

What can be done? Focus on your work and your work only. As a colleague, ask yourself if you are enabling their behavior by picking up some of the slack. If you are feeling pressured to “help out,” and you know this is a person who doesn’t reciprocate when the tables are turned, voice your concerns to your boss before taking on the extra responsibility. If you are their manager, this is one situation where micromanaging can be effective. Give small tasks with tight deadlines and follow-up persistently.

The Well-Meaning Incompetent

This person is hard working, but they are clearly underqualified for their job. They are incapable of making difficult decisions about their work and require hand-holding from the people around them.

Why does this person bother you? This one is tough because it’s not so easy to blame them. Unfortunately, sometimes our best is not good enough. Motivation and effort do not make up for lack of results over the long-term.

What can be done? Focus on what they can do rather than what they can’t. If you have time to help out, make sure you are teaching them how to do something rather than simply doing it for them. For managers, make sure you are not enabling. Give them honest performance feedback and don’t sugar-coat it. Let them know what skills they need to develop to be effective, and if they are unable to do so, they may need to be moved to a different position.

The Fraud

This one brags and over-exaggerates their accomplishments. They are more concerned with appearing to be competent, hard-working, and capable rather than actually doing so. They like to talk about work more than they like to work.

Why does this person bother you? If you are annoyed by the fraud, you are probably the opposite. You like to work hard and claiming credit for that work takes a backseat.

What can be done? Proactively defend yourself in a way so this person can’t claim credit for your work. If it is after-the-fact, speak up and mention your role in the project too. You need to be managing your image at work and marketing your skills and accomplishments anyway. So take some tips from the fraud—the difference being, you deserve the credit and accolades!

The Hypercompetitive Peer

They back-stab and stir the pot in an attempt to get themselves that promotion or raise. They are looking out for themselves and themselves only and how unfortunate if someone should get in their way.

Why does this bother you? This person is difficult to work with because they have only their own interests in mind—at the expense of others and the company.

What can be done? If you are the teamwork-type, you are on opposite ends of the spectrum and you must start to realize they are just wired differently than you. They are motivated and inspired by different things. Enlist their participation only when it is also in their best interests to do so and accept that they will never want to do anything for the sake of the team. If you are their boss, use their competitiveness where it can be a strength—perhaps they can compete with others or with themselves month-to-month to surpass sales goals.

The Aggravating Boss

Because of the dynamics at play, most people dislike their boss. Even those people who get along with their boss very well may dislike some aspects of their boss’s personality or perhaps some of their specific workplace behaviors. Fortunately, it’s not mandatory to like your boss or even be friends with them, but you do have to be able to work effectively with your boss.

Why does this bother you? Not only do you have to work with them constantly, you have to work for them.

What can be done? Pinpoint exactly what is the issue. Is your boss micromanaging? Does he fail to set direction? Is she ineffective in a critical aspect of her job? Does he treat you unfairly? Or do you simply have a difficult time tolerating her unique personality? Once you identify the specific behavior that is bothering you, you can take steps to manage the situation.

Did I miss anyone? Who was the most difficult person you have ever had to work with?

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Posted in People Management, Team & Project Management


  • hrh

    Been there, done that.

  • littlemissunderstood

    The over controlling peer.  Give someone a little bit of power and watch them go to town.

    • Harleyorange67

      My office manager is controlling.  I think I am the first person to work under her, and when she ask (tells) me what needs to be done, she wants me to do it her way.  Most of the time when she is there she is doing her homework for college, now she does work when she is needed to do so.  She is continiously late, takes two hour lunchs and seems to me she belittles me as much as possible.  I am at my whits end with this, I love my job and want to continue to grow in experience and knowledge, but she makes it difficult.  The other part is, our boss (another issue) knows all this and accepts it and doesn’t do anything.  I know I am not alone, everyone has something going on in their work place. 

  • Patrick Reilly

    I think you have done a great job identifying all of the attributes of the most annoying people at work. Nice job.

    In our work we do a lot of work with abrasive people. They are beyond annoying. One tool we have found extremely helpful in dealing with these folks is the TAD Dynamic developed by Dr. Laura Crawshaw. Simply stated it helps us look at when people act “funny” they are usually threatened when threatened they are anxious and when anxious they either flee or fight. It is then up to us to figure out what might be causing the flee or the fight and develop and then test a new strategy for interacting with them that works better. Make sense?

    • Great approach–I think we all tend to give up a little too easily when working with people who are a bit different or difficult and having a way to overcome that tendency is very beneficial. 

  • 2whoopingcranes

    You missed the bully boss. Harassment is their middle name. 

    • Piñata Programmer

      OMG. I had this one boss. We were all programmers (even the CEO) in a small company. You know how bosses sometimes help new employees become productive and feel welcome? My boss criticized me mercilessly and set me up for failure.
      Little technical goofs I did, just cuz I was new and didn’t know, became felonies that had to be reported to the CEO. If I did a good job, I didn’t do it fast enough. If I did it quickly, it wasn’t good enough. The reasons why the things I did weren’t good enough became murky, and I slowly realized that the reason was usually, because it was I who did it, and if my boss had done the same thing instead, it would have been OK.
      One monday, my boss explained a new project he was assigning me. I worked on it for several days. On Thursday, I reported my progress at the daily meeting. The CEO started screaming at me; I shouldn’t be wasting my time doing that. No warning from my boss, no instructions to stop doing it, straight off the cliff.
      I remember once, my boss told me the way Christmas vacation worked: we get Xmas day and the rest of the week off. Then we get New Years day, and the rest of that week off. But, a few days before New Years, I suspected that really people were coming to work after newyears. I showed up on Jan 2, and sure enough, a normal day of work.
      I remember once, I was fixing a bug. I came up with a solution within minutes; it was easy. But no, we can’t do that because mumble mumble (reasons that didn’t make sense). Go do it THAT way. Ok, I’ll remove my changes and do it that way, but it’s a bit more work. No problem, I did that work, bug fixed again, pretty easy. But no, that wasn’t good enough either, because of mumble mumble. Several times we went around; he’d complain that it didn’t do this or that (stuff we didn’t really need), and I’d just put in more code that did it all. Really, wasn’t hard. After a few hours, he finally ran out of things he could complain about, and he regretfully conceded that I was done. But, the next day at the meeting, there was a big, new important action item: we must fix this awful thing that I did, and ‘do it right’.
      BTW, I’m a pretty good programmer, usually I’m well-liked because I can get stuff done. I’d like to think part of this was that I was threatening to the boss, like i’d make him look bad (he wasn’t that good of a programmer). And, honestly, the company was having problems because of bugs in the software; I could have helped them so much. But there wasn’t much I could do; I was the new guy who was always screwing things up, and had no credibility. It was straight down the vortex and they fired me.

    • NB_95608

      YES! I had one of these and OMG. 17 years of dealing with various bosses, personalities, coworkers, etc. and I couldn’t survive this one.

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  • The man

    You missed the passive aggressive employee. They are the worst!

    • momo

      I agree, they are so subtle in they way they do this that its hard to address a situation with them because you can’t really say it happened.

  • Heres a fun one

    The pathological liar who refuses to do their job and blames you for everything that goes wrong because you are new when the problems are clearly the result of their incompetence… and the people who are dumb enough to believe them until after you leave for a better job. Suddenly you are missed and they want you back!

  • Bonner A Davis
  • Ann Riley

    I work with mostly women, but recently our female boss hired a man for a certain job. I was in on the interview and she acted liked a giddy school girl during the interview. This man is very charming and slick that I left the interview feeling a little sick. I had his number. Well it turns out that every other woman in the office has fallen for his charms and he can do no wrong. He gets away with whatever he does or doesn’t want to do and our boss defends him. He didn’t have to do any training—according to him he knows everything there is to know—he’s very arrogant, and it’s obvious to me that he doesn’t since I’m his supervisor (without any authority). He and I had a confrontation one day, and all the others took his side and now I am alienated by the whole staff. I’m in an office by myself and the other staff members keep their door closed now. They talk about me behind my back, try to bully me, and keep me isolated. I just don’t know what to do. I can’t afford to just quit and jobs are scarce where I live.

    • Uh oh, it sounds like you ended up on the wrong side of organizational politics. Right or wrong, fair or unfair, agree or disagree, this guy has a lot of influential power. The good news is that you can take advantage of this fact to do some damage control and get yourself out of this situation with your coworkers. Circle back and address the confrontation with him–apologize for your part, explain your side, seek to understand his side of the story–with the goal of reconciling that relationship (careful: NOT with the goal of convincing him you were right). It is likely that once you and him are on good terms (truly), he will do much of the work for you in terms of your relationship with the others.

      To move forward with creating a more positive work environment for yourself, take some time to process what happened (by yourself, so it is helpful if you record your answers):
      –What was the sequence of events that led to the confrontation?
      –In hindsight, what could you (hypothetically) have done differently to avoid it?
      –What exactly about his charming ways annoys you?
      –In what ways is he different from you (both good and bad)?
      –What are his strengths and how can you leverage them for your success and the success of your department or organization?

      Remember that to improve situations, you cannot change other people, you can only change yourself. Persist with that mindset and definitely don’t quit your job because of this. Getting along professionally with people we dislike personally is a very useful skill, one you can develop over time (because it’s definitely not easy!), and one that can make the difference between hating your job and loving it.

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  • karatecomuter

    How screwed am I to have all these in my workplace on the same shift…? Very…but looking at it from your perspective may do me some good thanks

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  • Luci Ann Scheitman

    And the passive-aggressive wimp. Who creates impossible workload for his staff, coz he’s scared to tell boss he needs to hire more people.