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From Conflict to Collaboration: Practical Tips for Dealing with Difficult People at Work

by | Jul 10, 2023 | Features, Career

Get practical tips for dealing with difficult people at work! I am sure it wouldn’t take long for you to name one or two colleagues – or clients – who fall into the ‘difficult personality’ category. Dealing with difficult people is an inevitable challenge you will face at some point in your legal career. So, you might as well learn how to effectively manage challenging relationships.

Whether it’s a coworker who constantly complains or a micromanager who hinders productivity, navigating these dynamics can be emotionally draining and disruptive to your company’s culture.

The good news is you don’t have to let disgruntled colleagues get the best of you. There are strategies you can implement today that can ease the burden of working with people who are determined to make your job hard.

It’s important to our growth and success that we learn how to build bridges with every colleague and client – not just the people we get along with.


Are there any benefits of working with difficult personalities?

Many times, it requires extra effort to reach a consensus with people who we perceive as difficult. We may receive unnecessary pushback or stonewalling that can impede our progress. If we aren’t careful, difficult people can affect our willingness to collaborate and our overall attitude.

But what if we looked at working with difficult people as another opportunity for us to overcome challenges instead of being a source of frustration? After all, we don’t have to like difficult people in order for them to provide benefits to our lives.

If we change our mindset and focus on the lessons, we can release that dread that often comes with dealing with people who – knowingly and unknowingly – create conflict.


Working with difficult people can:

  • Give us an opportunity to re-evaluate the way we communicate our ideas and learn diverse types of communication strategies.
  • Help us see situations from a different perspective.
  • Compel us to sharpen our problem-solving techniques.
  • Show us how to develop patience and empathy.
  • Reveal to us changes that we need to make within ourselves.


10 Most Common Types of Difficult Personalities

Before we delve into practical tips for dealing with challenging people at work, it’s a good idea to know about the different personalities you’ll likely encounter.

  1. The Narcissist is the ‘let’s focus on me’ type of personality.


  • Constantly seek attention and admiration.
  • Believe they are superior to others.
  • Lack empathy and a blatant disregard for others’ feelings.


  1. The Aggressor is often perceived as an office bully.


  • Display aggressive behavior, both verbally and physically.
  • Intimidate and bully others to assert dominance.
  • Have a short fuse and can become hostile easily.


  1. The Manipulator will do almost anything to get their way.


  • Use cunning tactics to control and influence others.
  • Twist situations and information to their advantage.
  • Often engage in gaslighting and emotional manipulation.


  1. The Chronic Complainer points out every problem and reason why something can’t be accomplished. 

Chronic Complainers:

  • Consistently focus on negative aspects of a situation.
  • Drain energy from those around them with constant negativity.
  • Rarely offer a solution, only dwell on problems.


  1. The Micromanager believes that their way of doing things is the only way.


  • Try to obsessively control every aspect of people and the workflow.
  • Lacks trust in others and constantly interferes.
  • Make it difficult for colleagues and subordinates to work independently.


  1. The Passive-Aggressive personality is inwardly dissatisfied but lacks the confidence to address the issues directly.

Passive-Aggressive personalities:

  • Express hostility indirectly through sarcasm, backhanded compliments, or subtle sabotage.
  • Avoid direct confrontation while creating tension and discomfort.
  • Often use passive-aggressive behavior as a means of manipulation.


  1. The Know-It-All personality believes that their knowledge supersedes everyone else’s.


  • Display an arrogant attitude of always being right.
  • Dismiss others’ opinions and expertise.
  • Rarely is open to feedback or alternative viewpoints.


  1. The Drama Queen/King enjoys getting involved in and reporting on chaotic situations.

Drama Queens/Kings:

  • Thrive on creating and escalating drama in the workplace.
  • Frequently overreact to situations and blows things out of proportion.
  • Tend to draw attention to themselves and their personal issues.


  1. The Perfectionist has to do everything just right.


  • Set unrealistically high standards for themselves and others.
  • Criticize and nitpick every detail, making collaboration challenging.
  • Struggle with delegation and trusting others to meet their expectations.


  1. The Socially Inept personality doesn’t know how to engage in conversation or interact with others.

Socially Inept personalities:

  • Lack basic social skills and awareness of social cues.
  • May engage in awkward or inappropriate behavior.
  • Struggle with communication and building positive relationships with colleagues.


How to Effectively Deal with Difficult Personalities

If you get anything else out of this podcast, remember this. You are in control of your responses – no matter how another person acts.

This is important to note because it’s easy to give our personal power away to negative circumstances and people.

Here are proven strategies you can implement during your next interaction with a difficult colleague or client.

Always maintain emotional control. This is your life and no one can annoy you without your permission.

  • Stay calm and composed when interacting with difficult individuals.
  • Avoid reacting impulsively or emotionally to their behavior.
  • Practice self-regulation techniques, such as deep breathing or taking a short break, to manage your own emotions.


Practice empathy and understanding. Implementing this strategy doesn’t mean that you excuse the behavior. Developing empathy is a powerful skill that can diminish stress and increase your overall happiness.

  • Try to understand the underlying reasons for the difficult person’s behavior.
  • Put yourself in their shoes to gain a different perspective.
  • Recognize that their actions may be driven by personal insecurities or external pressures that have nothing to do with you.


Learn to set boundaries. This creates clear guidelines for how you expect people to treat you.

  • Clearly define and communicate your boundaries to the difficult person.
  • Assertively express what you are willing and not willing to tolerate.
  • Be firm but respectful in maintaining your boundaries


Choose your battles wisely. When a colleague tries to engage in conflict, you don’t have to take the bait.

  • Evaluate the importance and impact of each situation before engaging.
  • Determine if it is worth confronting the difficult person or if it’s better to let minor issues slide.
  • Prioritize your energy on significant matters that require resolution.


Communicate effectively. Misunderstandings can arise at work when all parties haven’t expressed their expectations to each other.

  • Use clear and concise communication to convey your thoughts and concerns.
  • Be assertive and direct while maintaining professionalism and respect.
  • Active listening and paraphrasing can help ensure mutual understanding.


Get support from people who have experience dealing with challenging personalities. When discussing the situation, make sure the conversation doesn’t turn into a gossip or gripe session. State the facts – not your feelings. Brainstorm with the other person to find a resolution – not fault.

  • Reach out to trusted colleagues, mentors, or supervisors for guidance and support.
  • Discuss the challenges you are facing and explore possible solutions together.
  • Collaborate with others to gain different perspectives and strategies for dealing with difficult personalities.


Take care of your personal well-being. Despite our best efforts, working with difficult people can get to us. That’s why we shouldn’t internalize the feelings these relationships invoke and take them home with us.

  • Prioritize self-care to manage stress and maintain overall well-being.
  • Engage in activities that help you relax and recharge outside of work.
  • Seek outlets for emotional release, such as exercise, hobbies, or talking to friends or loved ones.

Learning how to effectively manage difficult personalities is an ongoing process that requires patience, resilience, and adaptability. The strategies in this article can help you navigate challenging workplace dynamics while preserving your professionalism and personal well-being.


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