Tips For Dealing With Difficult People In The Workplace


by Ian Bailey, Contributing Writer

You’ve probably heard more than one speech about the importance of teamwork and being polite and cordial with your co-workers. Perhaps a manager, college professor, or trainer extolled the virtues of maintaining positive cooperation and donning a pleasant demeanor around the other people who inhabit your office. No matter how angry you get at someone in your office, they instruct, no matter how much the revenge-urge boils steam out of your ears, it’s important to always be nice. Well, the truth is, they were right…but not completely.

Maintaining a pleasant demeanor is a good idea, as is validating peoples’ comments and opinions. But what do you do when someone seems to callously nitpick at small details? Or when someone, in their tunnel vision of concentration, hogs the entire question round during an important meeting? We’ve all went to school and worked with these types of people—people who are rather self centered and don’t operate well within a team environment. What is one supposed to do with only niceness in their arsenal? The answer is: fight fire with fire.

You won’t get anywhere being overly pleasant and nice to those types of people—they’ll just misunderstand your comments and keep on doing what they’re doing. And being nasty or imitating their behavior won’t work either—that just escalates the situation. The key here is to be polite and assertive. Confront them with respect, but with a backbone that keeps you from losing your opinion and your cool. A policy of niceness is something that simply does not work 100% of the time. You must be able to size up situations and evaluate people in order to tailor specific solutions to specific problems.

How do you identify the difficult co-worker?

When strong-minded, detail oriented people act in an overly confident and narcissistic manner, and seem to be toning out your voice and everyone else around you, they create an extremely difficult challenge for others like yourself to work with them. I call these types of people Guardians—roughly equivalent to a strong Myers-Briggs ISTJ or the Enneagram’s Six.

They are Guardians, however, who are not utilizing their unique skill set properly. Though they are able to be extremely self-disciplined and foster change within their environment, many of them adopt an alternative path of leadership, filled with pushiness and over-analysis.

Since “‎waiting for other people to change is like planning your future around winning the lottery”[1], the onus is usually on us to develop a solution.

The key is to be a good actor, while still maintaining your original role as yourself. Stay true to yourself and your opinions, but adopt a similar demeanor in order to make them feel more comfortable with you. The proper response has to do with a strong demeanor, not strong content. The proper script for your new hybrid role is to adopt their language, so they will understand you better; tilt your head forward, mimic their analytical tone and be direct with your comments. As long as you do not speak in a patronizing manner, your message will actually get across more effectively.

The takeaway here is that we must be adept at dealing with people who we may find to be difficult to deal with, and we must remind ourselves that it is us that need to adjust our behavior to avoid conflict and unnecessary fallout.. When we get out of our own subjective headspace we can instantaneously increase productivity, communication, and workplace harmony.


For further resources pertaining to overcoming personality differences in the workplace, Ian recommends:

Death by Meeting and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler

Lead by Greatness by David Lapin

Ian is the owner and head instructor of The Seven Ways, a small group which offers succinct and effective personality-based coaching, and management and media psychology consulting. A former pulpit and city rabbi, Ian lives with his wife and daughter in Baltimore, MD. The new personality profiling system that he has developed is laid out in the newly released book also called The Seven Ways. For more details on the book and on Ian’s workshops, visit


[1] Michael P. Nichols, PhD., a specialist in the areas of clinical psychology, family therapy, and couples dynamics.


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