How to Deal With Various Types of Difficult Coworkers in the Workplace
Do you feel happy, productive, and full of purpose at work?
If the answer is no, why not?
Could it be because you have to work with a difficult coworker? If that’s the case, you’re not alone. From what I’ve seen in both my research and personal experience working in HR, unpleasant coworkers is one of the top causes of workplace demotivation.
But the good news is you CAN do something about it. Granted, it’s not easy to work with a difficult coworker, but it’s not impossible—even though it may feel like it—to find a way to deal with them effectively. And as a result, you will feel less stressed and more motivated at work.
Today, I’m going to share with you some simple, quick, and practical strategies to help you deal with difficult coworkers in your workplace.
But before I do that, let’s take a look at the 12 common types of difficult coworkers in the workplace and their characteristics. This will help you assess the type of personality you’re dealing with and allow you to act accordingly.
Because in order to find the solution, we must first understand the problem (or what I like to call the “challenge”).
So let’s see what kind of challenge we got on our hands, shall we?
Characteristics of 12 Common Types of Difficult Coworkers in the Workplace
1. The Gossiper
Characteristics of the Gossiper:
- They have little respect for people’s privacy and will “pass on” any information you share with them.
- They like to talk about other people, often casually and in a mean-spirited way, and get involved in other people’s business.
- They’re eager to share “news” that may be an exaggerated version of the truth or flat-out lies, creating tension, anxiety, and fear in the workplace.
2. The Chronic Complainer
Characteristics of the Chronic Complainer:
- Nothing is ever their fault and they’re always getting the short end of the stick.
- They love to bring up problems but rarely offer a solution.
- They see the negative side of everything and will try to make others around them see it too.
3. The Drama King/Queen
Characteristics of the Drama King/Queen:
- They seek lots of attention and will constantly try to bring the spotlight onto themselves. Drama Kings/Queens will often dominate conversations, share endless details about their lives, and play the “victim card” when things don’t go their way.
- They communicate with a whirlwind of emotions rather than speaking/writing calmly and with logic.
- They have a knack for blowing things out of proportion. This can create a lot of unnecessary conflicts and lead to wasted time, energy, and resources.
4. The Diva
Characteristics of the Diva:
- Divas are often talented in what they do. They’re star performers in the workplace and because of this, they expect special treatment from everyone around them. They act like they’re above “the law” (workplace rules and expectations) and won’t even bother to hide bad behaviours.
- They display an attitude of arrogance and perceive themselves as “invaluable” to the workplace.
- They don’t like to share resources and will often refuse to cooperate with others.
5. The Nitpicker
Characteristics of the Nitpicker:
- They’re obsessed with unimportant details and will drive everyone around them crazy with requests for “corrections” that seem unnecessary.
- They’re critical about almost everything you do.
- They have trouble letting go of control. Instead of sharing resources, information, and duties within the team, they may choose to take on a disproportionate amount of responsibilities themselves—to make sure they’re done “perfectly”.
6. The Change Resistor
Characteristics of the Change Resistor:
- They’re slow to accept new ideas or a different way of doing things.
- They insist on maintaining their established opinions and “being right”.
- They become anxious, defensive, or fearful when the status quo is challenged.
7. The Saboteur
Characteristics of the Saboteur:
- They go out of their way to make you look bad in front of your boss and other teammates, usually when you’re not around to defend yourself.
- They take credit for your work, but if things go sideways, guess who they’ll point the finger to?
- They make it tough for you to do your job effectively through tactics such as disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing, withholding information and resources, or using office politics.
8. The Slacker
Characteristics of the Slacker:
- They like to shirk off responsibilities. If they can’t, they’ll do the bare minimum to get by.
- They’re complacent and not interested in learning and trying new things.
- They’re unreliable. You often can’t find them when you need them and they’re slow to respond to your emails and calls. You often have to pick up their slack because they have yet another “personal emergency”, or redo their work because it’s not up to par.
9. The Manipulator
Characteristics of the Manipulator:
- Manipulators exert their power of influence through charm. They will try to get you on their side quickly by telling you what you want to hear, volunteer to help you out, and take a keen interest in you. They make those around them feel “special”.
- Manipulators like to play both sides of the fence. They can tell you one thing, then turn around and say something completely different to another. They also like to play two people against each other.
- Once you’re part of a Manipulator’s “inner circle”, you’ll find yourself entangled in more drama, you’ll experience more negative emotions (and you won’t know why), and behave in ways that challenge your values and beliefs.
10. The Explosive
Characteristics of the Explosive:
- They have a hard time managing their emotions appropriately. Their emotions (usually anger) can escalate quickly once they encounter a trigger.
- They often initiate direct confrontations with others.
- They don’t cope well under stress. They tend to get frustrated easily, make poor decisions, and stop communicating in stressful situations. They may lash out at others if when the stress level gets too high.
11. The Overly-Blunt
Characteristics of the Overly-Blunt:
- They come across as insensitive, critical, or even condescending because they like to make tactless remarks in the workplace. If you point out this problem to them, they will often defend themselves by saying “I’m just being honest”.
- They struggle to recognize emotional cues in people and they have difficulty empathizing with others.
12. The Overly-Sensitive
Characteristics of the Overly-Sensitive:
- They get their feelings hurt easily, often over minor things. Working with an Overly-Sensitive will make you feel like you’re “walking on eggshells” because you never know what will upset them.
- They tend to bottle their feelings and harbour resentment. You might suddenly get the “silent treatment” from an Overly-Sensitive and you’ll be scratching your head wondering what happened.
- They get anxious easily and like to ruminate over things.
Now remember, you may be dealing with someone who’s a mix of one, two, three, or even more of the difficult personality types mentioned above. In that case, you’ll need to be flexible in your approach when it comes to dealing with them.
And that leads us to the next question:
How do you deal with a difficult coworker who’s causing a big dent in your job satisfaction?
Read on to find out!
How to Deal With Difficult Coworkers By Their Personality Type
1. How to Deal with the Gossiper
Communicate to a Gossiper only when you need to, and keep it short and sweet—because the longer you keep a conversation going, the more opportunity you’ll give to the Gossiper to tell you all about Nancy’s divorce or what Joe said about Tom behind his back.
Not only is this kind of talk unproductive, but it can also put you in an awkward and even difficult spot should you find out something you really have no business knowing. Not to mention, if people think you have a close relationship with a Gossiper, it can really damage your own reputation and credibility.
If the conversation starts to veer off track, either steer it back to the work you need to discuss or politely excuse yourself. After you do this enough times, they should get the hint.
2. How to Deal With the Chronic Complainer
Beware, a Chronic Complainer’s negative energy is highly contagious. If you don’t want their sour attitude to rub off on you, you have to keep your distance.
If you can’t get away from a Chronic Complainer, try this: Every time they complain about something, challenge them to come up with a solution. This will either help them develop a problem-solving mindset, or annoy them enough that they’ll stop complaining to you.
3. How to Deal With the Drama King/Queen
What do Drama Kings/Queens love? A captivated audience. The more attention you give to them, the more you feed their need for attention. It’s a vicious cycle.
Over the years, I found the most effective way to handle a Drama King/Queen is to remain calm around them and speak with objectivity and logic.
But that doesn’t you have to appear cold or aloof. You can still show empathy towards them and yet not involve yourself in their drama.
Instead of saying “poor you!” or agreeing with them that their minor problem really is “the end of the world”, you can say: “I can see you’re upset about this, and I’m not discounting how you feel at this moment, but I have a different perspective on this issue. When you’re ready, I’d like to share that perspective with you.” And if they nod yes, proceed to give them (politely) a dose of reality.
And if you do this over and over, they’ll change how they behave around you. When Drama Kings/Queens realize they can’t easily influence your emotions with their over-the-top words and actions, they’ll learn to take their theatrical performances elsewhere.
4. How to Deal with the Diva
How can you possibly handle a coworker who thinks normal workplace expectations, such as treating others with respect, don’t apply to them?
First of all, remain calm. Direct confrontations with a Diva don’t usually end well as they’re used to throwing tantrums and getting their way. Arguments with a Diva will get you nowhere and only make matters worse.
But that doesn’t mean you have to be a doormat either. If a Diva shows any disrespectful behaviour towards you, always clearly, calmly, and firmly tell them you’re not OK with the behaviour and they need to stop.
Don’t send mixed signals by laughing at their offensive jokes or letting a nasty remark slide. Let them know you don’t like the behaviour but don’t engage further if they start to argue. Communicate your stance on how you expect to be treated and leave it at that.
And always document when a Diva engages in toxic workplace behaviours towards you (spreading malicious rumours, yelling, calling you names, using profanity, making threats, etc.). Write down when the incident took place, what exactly happened, who was there to witness it, and how it made you feel. If their negative behaviours continue after you’ve told them clearly that they need to stop, then talk to HR about the issues you’re having with the Diva and ask for assistance.
Now if your employer tolerates Divas in the workplace, it won’t take much time before the whole place becomes a toxic environment. In that case, it might be better to cut your losses and find a better place to work before it becomes unbearable.
5. How to Deal With the Nitpicker
Nitpickers are often hard workers and hold themselves to high standards. Problems arise when they try to push that same expectation for perfection onto others.
So how can you work effectively with this type of difficult coworker? First of all, show appreciation for their hard work and acknowledge their high standards and work ethic. If they prefer a particular way of doing things, and it’s not too troublesome or against the company rules or values to do, show your understanding and respect for that preference.
But if their preferences create too many inefficiencies or other problems, communicate the issue to them and let them know their standards—although set with good intentions—are unrealistic under the circumstances. And then, try to work with them to find a middle ground.
6. How to Deal With the Change Resistor
When dealing with a Change Resistor, you have to be patient. They’re set in their ways and that’s not going to change overnight. Being frustrated with them will not make them accept new things any faster.
The best way to get Change Resistors to adopt a new idea or a new way of doing things is to help them understand how this new idea or work method will benefit them. Show them that the ultimate reward is greater than the initial inconvenience, and they’ll be more likely to accept the change. Just be prepared that it might take more than a few attempts to get the message across to them.
Oh, and perhaps send them this article? How to Embrace Change Without Fear or Frustration
7. How to Deal With the Saboteur
Be careful when you encounter this type of difficult coworker in the workplace. Some of them are just petty, others are out for blood. If Saboteurs gain enough influence, they could dish out some real damage—from ruining your chances at promotion to turning everyone against you.
So stay alert when you have to work with them. Take notes, save your work meticulously (including email exchanges with the Saboteur), and try to communicate important things via writing whenever possible. If you have to have discussions face-to-face or over the phone, follow up with an email to “recap” the conversation.
And don’t just do these things when you’re around a Saboteur—make these habits part of your daily work routine. For everyone else, you’ll just be a thorough and diligent employee, but for the Saboteur lurking in the shadows, these habits become subtle cues that will let them know you’re not an easy target.
8. How to Deal With the Slacker
When you have to work with a Slacker, it can be tempting to just do everything yourself. But doing so is not always feasible (nor a good idea). You will end up burning out yourself while enabling the Slacker to continue “coasting”. And the worst part is, others who don’t know what’s going on may think you’re not a “team-player”. So what can you do?
Find out what, if anything, the Slacker is good at and actually enjoys to do. Play to their strengths and give lots of encouragements.
If they don’t deliver their part of the work, ask them why and get them to commit to a plan to prevent it from happening again. And if they consistently don’t do what they’re suppose to do or the quality is not up to snuff, have an open conversation with them about what you’ve observed and what changes you need to see from them. Try not to make any judgement about them like “you’re lazy” or “you don’t want to help”—stick to behaviours you see and they affect you—and ask them to contribute to a solution.
For example: “I’ve noticed you don’t respond to my calls or emails until a few days later, and this really slows down progress on my end. I need you to return my calls/emails faster, how soon do you think is a reasonable expectation?”
9. How to Deal With the Manipulator
Be wary of people who shower you with flattery and an unusual amount of attention at work. Whenever you meet a coworker who seems to want to get close to you “too quickly” and makes you feel special to the point where it makes you almost blush, always ask yourself: “Why?”
The same coworker will probably tell you things like “Jim doesn’t like you” or “Sarah said this about you.” When that happens, instead of getting angry right away at Jim or Sarah, ask yourself: “Why is this person telling me this? What are they trying to achieve?”
If you calm down and observe them close enough, you’ll see they’re probably also friendly with Jim and Sarah. And that’s a red flag that you have a Manipulator in your midst. Never mind whether these people really said mean things about you, if the Manipulator can betray their trust, you bet they can do the same to you.
So instead of reacting quickly, always ask yourself the “why” behind someone’s behaviour. If you spot a Manipulator, distance yourself as far away as possible from them. Don’t trust anything they say, and never give them any valuable information about yourself.
10. How to Deal With the Explosive
Explosives don’t cope well under stress, so if you know the situation is getting stressful, anticipate how an Explosive would react and develop strategies to remain calm yourself.
It’s easy to let your emotions get carried away by the Explosive’s outburst when things go wrong, and if that happens, you lose control of the situation and become part of the problem. But if you’re calm, you always have one hand on the steering wheel and can direct the situation back on the right path.
If they’re being disrespectful, let them know you’re not OK with their behaviours and that you’ll communicate when they’ve calmed down. Then walk away. Remember to take notes of the incident—when it happened, how it happened, and who else was there—in case you need to speak with HR about the problem.
11. How to Deal With the Overly-Blunt
Don’t take what they say personally. And here’s an article that can help you with this: How to Not Take Things So Personally
Sometimes their feedback can help identify a point of weakness on your part, and if so, don’t let your pride stand in the way of your growth and improvement. Other times they’re just insensitive or downright rude, and if that’s the case, don’t be afraid to tell them how their message came across.
And don’t expect the Overly-Blunt to “guess” how their words made you feel. You’ll just set yourself up for disappointment and resentment. It’s better to communicate clearly and directly to this type of coworker how you feel and what you need.
12. How to Deal With the Overly-Sensitive
In order to work well with an Overly-Sensitive worker, you have to show empathy and be willing to understand and work with their characteristics and habits. For example, you’ll need to give criticisms gently, give them lots of reassurance, and communicate in a simple, easy-to-understand style that leaves them little room to “guess” what you meant and then ruminate over it.
And while you might think your intentions are crystal clear, they might not be so obvious to others. So as a good practice, try to communicate the reasons behind your actions whenever possible.
For example: “I finished your portion of the project because I noticed you had a lot of things on your plate lately, so I wanted to help without making you feel stressed over it.” This simple explanation could quell the Overly-Sensitive’s worries that perhaps you had finished their work because you think they’re incompetent.
Final Words on How to Deal with Difficult Coworkers at Work
Dealing with difficult personalities at work is going to take time, patience, and a lot of emotional intelligence. Be prepared for setbacks and challenges along the way, but don’t lose hope (or your cool). If collaborating with a difficult coworker is taking a toll on you though, you need to consider the following 2 things:
- How much energy you have to devote to dealing with a difficult coworker.
- How much your employer is going to support you through this process.
If you don’t have a sufficient amount of either of the above, it might make more sense for you to start afresh elsewhere.