At some point in their career, most people will have to work with someone obstructive, difficult and generally unpleasant. So, how do you deal with the jerks at work?

So what can you do? I can sum up your options like this: you can leave, you can bury your head or you can take a stand. It doesn’t sound like you want to leave, and nor should you have to. That leaves you with the last option: facing up to your colleague and addressing the issue.

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Here are 9 tips that I’ve found to work in dealing with such people:

 Be calm.

Losing your temper and flaring out at the other person typically isn’t the best way to get him/her to collaborate with you. Unless you know that anger will trigger the person into action and you are consciously using it as a strategy to move him/her, it is better to assume a calm persona. 

Someone who is calm is seen as being in control, centered and more respectable. Would you prefer to work with someone who is predominantly calm or someone who is always on edge? When the person you are dealing with sees that you are calm despite whatever he/she is doing, you will start getting their attention.


 Assess the situation carefully.

Is a colleague deeply upset or simply having a bad day? Once the situation has been assessed, it can be determined whether the person just requires a little personal attention or whether a larger plan must be created.


 Shift perspective.

Stop thinking of the colleague as “difficult” and start thinking about the difficulty he is experiencing and how you can serve him in his current situation. The reality is that one never really knows all that is going on with another person or what triggered this emotionally upset moment. Once one realizes what a difficult situation means to another person, one can approach the issue with more compassion, generosity, empathy and patience. This is far more effective for both parties than concluding that another person is difficult all the time or is always overreacting.


 Be direct, open en tactful.

It is important to be honest to your colleague. Be direct and tell in all honesty what the difficulties are you are facing. Try to understand the problems and do have an open discussion. Once you choose to confront a difficult coworker, make sure you give well rehearsed, constructive criticism and that you deliver it in a calm, polite, tactful, diplomatic and non-threatening manner. Keep your voice low and select your words carefully.


 Speak to the person directly.

It is always of utmost importance to listen to arguments and to respond at the correct moment. Do not only ventilate frustrations. Stay calm; give your arguments and listen. Listen to the view of your colleague and see whether he / she has a point. Have an open discussion, which leave room for discussion.


 Explain your own position clearly.

As mentioned above, the difficult colleague may not realize the impact that their behavior is having on you and, when speaking to them, you need to make this clear. Avoid making any statements that are emotive.


 Remain professional.

Even if the other party veering away from appropriate conduct, it is important that you do not sink to their level – this is because it is in your best interests to maintain professional at all times.


 Try not to take it Personally.

Just because someone is behaving in a certain way, doesn’t mean anything about you. Try to disassociate others’ behavior from how you feel about yourself. This can be a tricky one, but learning to develop a thick skin and let things go is an invaluable skill in any area of life.


 Treat the person with respect.

Whether they are junior or senior in position to you, no one responds well to being labeled negatively as useless, incompetent or stupid, for example. This method would lead to a far worse situation as, if you disrespect the other person, then it is likely that they will treat you the same way.


 Food for Thought.

“All conflicts can be translated into a human need that is not being met. Conflict is based on a misunderstanding of each other’s needs. Once the misunderstanding is resolved — the potential for reconciliation is increased.”


 Please keep in mind that you have both rights and responsibilities in these situations.

Your responsibilities include:

  1. Approaching the other person in a polite, problem-solving way to work things out.
  2. Avoiding actions (like gossip) that make the situation worse.
  3. A willingness to recognize that you have probably contributed to the problem.
  4. Listening to the other person rather than trying to convince or bully them.
  5. Seeking help from others in a dignified, open and constructive way.


Your rights include:

  1.  Setting behavioral limits and consequences when nasty, abusive behaviors directed at you
  2. The expectation that the other person will work in an open problem solving and courteous way.
  3. An expectation that management will help, but may not be able to solve the problem without your cooperation and that of the other person.


 Get Help.

Sometimes you can try everything to resolve a situation and nothing seems to work. If this is the case, please don’t suffer in silence. There is nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it. Speak to a manager or a human resources representative that you trust. If a relationship with a co-worker is causing you anxiety or affecting your work, it’s time to ask for support.


How have you dealt with a difficult coworker in the past? Have some approaches worked better than others for you? Let us know in the comments below.

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Myriam Balerio is the founder and writer of PA Privé. After kick starting her career as a PA and finding success as an assistant, Myriam later trained in digital and online marketing and has since combined the two disciplines in creating PA Privé, the platform through which she provides sage advice for those in the assistant profession and a network for like-mined PAs and EAs to connect. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Myriam has lived in London for over 10 years and currently lives in London with her husband and French bulldog.


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