30 Tips for Dealing with Difficult Coworkers and Bosses

business tips coworkers bosses difficult personalityIn the ideal office environment, each working member would eat, drink and breathe teamwork. However, if you go to work each day with other human beings, it’s much more likely you’ve experienced at least a few conflicts. Here are some strategies to cope, based on several dysfunctional personality types.

Gossip Girl/Guy

While talking about others may be a ploy to take attention off their own insecurities, many gossips hold onto beliefs that their version of “sharing” is a way to connect with coworkers.  

  1. Maintain your character by not joining in, as tempting as it might be.
  2. Whatever you do, never ever share anything you don’t want re-shared with the rest of the office — and possibly on social media.
  3. Find an exit strategy. Pronto.

The Blamer

Typically pointing fingers in someone else’s direction, blamers shift responsibility when something goes wrong. 

  1. Try redirecting attention away from blame and toward the actual details and possible solutions. A blamer is often found circling around the truth to convince others that their poor choices had nothing to do with the problem at hand. 
  2. Instead of joining in the blame game, be sure to own up to any mistakes that could have contributed to the issue. Then, maintain firm boundaries about your actual role.

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The Drama Queen/King

Often seen hanging out with Gossip Girl. Attention seeking and the need for theatrics are the most common plot lines. 

  1. Remain calm at all costs. This persona loves a grand scene and an audience.
  2. Always attempt to first compliment their efforts before delivering any work performance critiques. 
  3. Set time limits and stick to them. When you only have five minutes to hear their latest drama, listen and then gracefully bow out.

Captain Braggy Pants

Often over-exaggerating personal accomplishments, this coworker or boss may be more concerned with appearing to be competent, rather than actually being so. 

  1. Take a deep breath. Realize that insecurity is often behind a bragger’s self-serving monologue.  
  2. Completely ignoring their behavior is unlikely to make it stop and may actually prolong it. Try acknowledging their latest triumph and then moving on.
  3. Sometimes offering a listening ear is all that’s needed. Consider its value as a lesson in patience.
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The Passive-Aggressor

This can be an interesting tightrope to walk since this character may not reveal his true nature at first. You may mistakenly think all is well. Watch out. 

  1. This personality type will often promise to help with a project, but not follow through. Be prepared with a Plan B timeline.
  2. Take the initiative in repairing your relationship and approach them first. Consider starting the discussion with something like, “I may be completely wrong about this, but it seems like …”
  3. Be specific with your requests. Direct communication is key.

The Conspiracy Theorist

Constantly suspicious and distrusting of others’ motives, this office persona can prove to be extremely frustrating. 

  1. Respond with calm, fact-based information and explanations about why certain decisions or developments occurred. 
  2. Avoid getting caught up in their atmosphere of anxiety while communicating your need to focus on the task at hand.

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Golden Gloves

Always ready for a fight, intimidation is the name of their game.   

  1. Gratitude is often the best diffuser of an imminent explosion. Begin a discussion with kind words whenever possible. The fighter is often taken by surprise.
  2. Don’t offer them the win by letting them see you upset. Keep your cool, and they won’t have much to work with.
  3. Know when it’s time to walk away.
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Debbie Downer/Jaded Jared

Easy to spot because of that raincloud that follows them around the office each day.  Take steps to ensure it doesn’t blow the files right off your desk. 

  1. Redirect the negative emotion train before it hits. Reframe the discussion on a more positive note.
  2. Focus on suggestions that create positive solutions. Avoid the brain drain of negative energy.
  3. Show compassion while exercising caution around patterns of constant complaining. Be a good listener but maintain boundaries.

The Non-Responder

They won’t answer your emails, your phone calls or even the yellow sticky notes you keep leaving on their desk.  

  1. Never send a request without specific questions and very specific deadlines.
  2. Honey before vinegar. Sweetness almost always works better than anger.
  3. Realize they may be just as overworked as you and have a hard time managing it all. Keep trying new ways to re-engage before you have to request assistance from a superior.

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The Back-Stabber

These characters are the non-team members who believe the best ways to build themselves up involve tearing down those around them. Research has shown that people most often act out when they feel their ego is threatened.   

  1. Demonstrate caution when necessary. Building trust among coworkers is undoubtedly one of the most important ways to ensure success in an office. However, after a clear identification of a back-stabber/career assassin has been made, a more defensive approach is warranted. 
  2. Choose your battles wisely. Not sweating the small stuff will leave you better prepared for the most important issues, those that affect your career integrity.
  3. Document and communicate. Transparency in all your communications is a good idea anyway, and leaves less room for a colleague’s misguided plans.

Ego Beast

Often showing an extreme need for admiration and praise, this personality creates many challenges. Particularly if this role is one that fits your boss, proceed with caution. 

  1. Due to their self-focused nature, find ways to communicate how your specific request is actually in their best interest.
  2. Manage your expectations carefully. Sometimes the ego-inflated member of the team offers just the type of charisma needed to get the new account or to promote a radical new idea to your client.
Remember, all offices need a mixture of different personalities and approaches to succeed. Debbie Downer may reveal the fatal flaw in the new proposal, while Captain Braggy Pants demonstrates the enthusiasm to get the job done. Learning to navigate complicated work relationships with an open mind is vital to the continued growth of your team. 

Laura Jackson is a freelance writer based in Hilton Head, SC with her husband and two teenagers.