5 Difficult People and How to Work With Them

Dec 1, 2011
9 Min Read

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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