Dealing with Difficult People at Work

Keep Your Sanity with These Rules of the Road


“Difficult” comes in many shapes and sizes. There are many reasons that you may find someone you work with difficult.

Today I want to talk about the type of difficult people who may be:
  • Lacking credibility for their role
  • Missing significant values, such as integrity or humility
  • Operating at a low level of emotional intelligence

leadership in the workplaceThe common thread for these individuals is that it is difficult to respect them, and even more difficult to navigate successfully around them.

As an executive coach, I have found that these individuals cost their team and their company an inordinate amount of energy, resources, and money.

You might be working with someone right now who fits one or more of the points above.

Rules of the Road


Detach emotionally – I am not suggesting that you stop caring. Instead, stop allowing the difficult person to trigger your anger, frustration, or other negative emotions.

Take steps to prevent issues – If your boss is a micro-manager, get ahead of her worries and check in before she expects it. Anticipate what is essential and get ahead of expectations.

Set healthy boundaries – Wherever possible, set boundaries regarding what is acceptable. For instance, if your boss is texting you incessantly and calling you over minor details, detach. Establish available times and stick to them.

Become a buffer for your team – If you manage a team, remember that they are likely under stress, too. The boss who undermines your authority when you are away, or gives confusing direction on priorities can poison a productive team. Serve as an advocate and buffer your team from the worst of your bosses’ behaviors.


Know your boiling point – Are you the frog in hot water? If you are resilient, you may adjust to a certain level of hostility or unreasonable demands on your time. If you find yourself continually adapting to ever worsening conditions, keep in mind, that only works up to a point. The last thing you want is to be surprised by reaching your limit some afternoon when you lose it and exclaim, “I quit!”


Resist the urge to fix them – Once you realize that it isn’t your job to set your boss or co-worker straight, you will free up significant energy. It is rare that the difficult boss or individual will change.


Know when it’s time to move on – Unless help is coming from the executive team or board of directors to intervene or remove a difficult person on the leadership team, your best option is to create a plan to move on to something better. Recognizing and acting on the situation sooner rather than later is one key to minimizing the damage to your career and well-being.

Here’s to your success in 2018!


Kathleen Winsor-Games