Working With Difficult Colleagues – Strategies to Stay Sane

Nov 19, 2018

The mental load of working with difficult personalities can be exhausting. A great project can be subverted by a naysayer or your intentions undermined by a cynic. Maybe you find yourself stuck in a conversation with the office complainer, your blood pressure rising and your productivity thwarted. It can be difficult to stay on track when it seems like your coworkers are your greatest obstacle. Ultimately, the goal when dealing with difficult personalities is to keep your productivity and your sanity. But how?

Control what you can – manage your own actions and behaviors.

The office gossip probably isn’t going to stop gossiping no matter what you do, but you can take steps to limit your interactions with them, or even tell them that you like to avoid drama and need to get back to work.

Often, the most positive step that we can take is making the decision to try a new approach. Whether you are dealing with a negative Nancy, a micro-manager or the person who never seems to follow through, being intentional on how you plan to react will pay off in the end.

Be proactive.

Anticipate what might come up based on who is involved. If history tells you that the situation is going to be problematic, believe your experience. Prepare yourself and decide how you plan on reacting to the obstacles or challenges presented.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

In your ideal situation, how would you react when approached with negativity or hostility? What might you do to make the experience a more positive one?

  1. Make a plan and stick to it.


Set specific goals. The more specific your goals, the more realistic the chances that you will succeed. Make the decision to keep moving forward and manage challenges as they come.


  1. Keep your emotions in check.


Getting frustrated or angry will only hurt the situation, yourself or your professional reputation. Not every situation will go according to plan, but take a deep breath, adjust and adapt. You got this!


  1. Be kind but firm. It is true, kindness matters but not at your expense.


A wise man (or woman) once said: It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.


  1. Set boundaries when possible.

State your intention and your plan, while also managing expectations (your own and the other person’s). For example – let’s say your micro-managing supervisor is hassling you about your progress on a project. Kindly state “I will contact you if I run into any problems. I will be in touch this afternoon with an update. Thanks for checking in.”


  1. Remember that most people are trying their best.


Let’s face it. Being a human is messy. While it can be frustrating working with difficult personalities, we never know someone else’s experience until we walk in their shoes. Try to come from a place of understanding and respect. While you may not like their approach, it may be the only way they know.


While you may not be able to change your colleagues, you can certainly change your expectations and your own behaviors which leads to a happier you (and happier work life!). A career coach works with clients on modifying behavior, creating positive and sustainable change. And behavior change, in turn, produces measurable performance results. Check out our executive coaching services and sign up for a free consultation here.