Work With Difficult People

Throughout your working career, you will probably find some people difficult to work with. Whether it's because a colleague lets his ego get in the way, or complains and spreads gossip, or simply doesn't want to do his fair share of the work, understanding difficult personality types will help you learn to work with them more efficiently.


Working With Hostile Coworkers

  1. Understand what hostility is. A coworker is generally considered to be acting hostile when he or she engages in harassment (verbal or sexual), mocking of others, and/or bullying, typically with recurring frequency.[1] Hostility can be intimidating or demoralizing and can make it difficult for others to feel safe in the workplace.
  2. Consider why a person acts hostile. Hostility is often a defensive mechanism, employed by someone who feels insecure or jealous, or by someone who rejects others because of some perceived slight. Other times, a person is hostile because of abuse or neglect in his own life. Regardless of your coworker's motivation, understand that below the surface, the problem has nothing to do with you.[2]
  3. Try approaching your hostile coworker. Often times, effective communication can diffuse a situation, if it is managed early on. Speak calmly and tell your coworker what specific actions or behaviors are problematic, and why. Do not return hostility; rather, let your coworker know how you would like to be treated in a clear, calm manner.[3]
    • Speak with your hostile coworker in private. Hostile people may feel threatened if they are confronted in front of a group of peers.
    • Do not approach your coworker or try to speak with him about his behavior if you feel threatened. In these cases it may be best to simply speak with a manager or supervisor. Your supervisor should be able to diffuse the situation, and may even refer your coworker to a class, like anger management, that can help him work on his issues.

Working With Coworkers Who Chronically Complain

  1. Understand what chronic complaining is. Everyone needs to vent from time to time about stressful or upsetting situations, but some people seem to thrive on complaining. Psychologists call this type of behavior whining--distinct from a complaint because of the nature of the grievance and the person's motivation for voicing that grievance.[4] In other words, there's a difference between voicing concern or frustration about a valid issue, and lamenting with an air of entitlement.
  2. Consider why people behave this way. While casual complaints about common issues like traffic or the weather are normal and can help people bond socially, complaining chronically about every facet of life can be exhausting and demoralizing to listen to. Often times a person engages in chronic complaining because he feels powerless in his work and in his life. That feeling of powerlessness, over time, can become a distinct mindset.[5]
  3. Try listening. It's possible this person just needs to talk to someone about some underlying life issue. Or perhaps this coworker feels lonely and isolated at work, and is attempting to bond with you over frustrations he imagines you share.
  4. Create a dialogue. Ask your coworker what he thinks should happen. If your colleague has an issue with someone else at work, encourage your coworker to calmly speak with a supervisor about the issue he is addressing to you.[6]
    • Don't agree with your coworker's complaints, and don't apologize. These reactions will only encourage your coworker to continue complaining on a regular basis.

Working With Gossipy Coworkers

  1. Understand what gossip is. Like complaining, gossiping does hold some social value. Throughout history, humans have relied on gossip for safety, using it as a means of learning who is or is not trustworthy.[7] But chronic gossip about other people can be distracting and can damage reputations in the workplace.
    • Gossip about coworkers can hurt feelings, lower workplace morale, and can even lead to lawsuits for defamation or invasion of privacy.
  2. Avoid sharing personal information with someone who spreads rumors. If a coworker is known to spread rumors and gossip about others, revealing virtually anything about yourself could give that coworker fuel to start a new rumor.
  3. Dismiss gossip in an offhand or humorous way. If you know that a coworker is spreading gossip about you, or is even lying about you, try using humor to diffuse the situation.[8]
    • Do not confront your coworker with anger. This may lead to escalation or retaliation.
    • Address the issue your coworker is talking about, but state the facts.
    • Try saying something like, "I worry people might think certain things about me, but it's just not true," or "I heard someone say something about that, but it wasn't me."
  4. Don't get involved. If other people are gossiping about a coworker, it's best not to get involved. And if others are gossiping about you, try not to let it bother you. Chances are they will get bored and move on to some other topic shortly.

Working With a Slacker

  1. Consider why your coworker might shirk responsibility. Don't get mad or hold a grudge. It's possible your coworker simply has other issues at home that are affecting workplace performance. Perhaps your coworker has some stressful life situation that he or she isn't letting on about.
  2. Speak with your coworker. Do not be accusatory or mean. Use factual evidence instead of conjecture, and communicate calmly and clearly to your coworker that his or her behavior is affecting others at work.[9]
  3. Act like a leader. Don't try to get your coworker in trouble, as this could cause hostility or retaliation. Instead, sit down with your coworker and try to help him or her find a more effective strategy to deal with the work that needs to be done.[10]

Working With Demanding Clients

  1. Understand your client's expectations. Perhaps there was some kind of miscommunication, and one of you did not realize what the other needed. This can be worked out through calm, direct communication.[11]
    • Try to understand your client on a person-to-person level.
    • Ask your client, "What expectations do you have moving forward?"
    • Follow up with the question, "What can I do differently?"
    • If necessary, set reasonable limits on what is or is not acceptable. Again, remain calm and professional, but communicate your concerns.
  2. Don't make promises you can't keep. The best way to manage your client's expectations is to exceed the promises you've made. You can't do that if you aren't meeting your goals.[12]
  3. Take thorough notes during meetings, and keep all email correspondences. That way, if an issue arises, you can calmly refer your client back to an earlier conversation.[13]
    • Keep track of dates, details, and what was said by whom.
  4. Don't lose your patience. Remember that managing your client's expectations is part of your job. Act professional, and take criticism in stride.


  • Be respectful. Treat your coworkers with respect and let them know you appreciate their hard work.
  • Enjoy your job. Try not to let other people's problems ruin your work environment.
  • Be helpful. Offer assistance whenever possible, but don't needlessly take on others' work. You should ideally feel like you are part of a team.
  • Work hard. Don't shirk your own responsibilities because of other people's bad habits or bad attitudes.


  • Do not encourage any kind of bad behavior at work. Participating in or even passively condoning bad behavior will only allow that behavior to continue and escalate.
  • Do not confront a coworker who has anger issues. Let a manager or supervisor know about your concerns, and trust that the conflict will be resolved professionally.