5 Expert Tactics for Dealing With Difficult Co-Workers (Workplace Happiness Tips)

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‘If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.’ ~ Pema Chodron”

We’ve all been there—trying unsuccessfully to reason with an incredibly difficult person. I equate it to trying to reason with my three-year-old. It’s downright impossible.

It’s a frustrating and maddening situation to be in, especially dealing with difficult co-workers, because we don’t always get a choice of who we interact with at work. However, there are proven (and peaceful) tactics to manage these situations in a calm, peaceful and dignified manner. We can avoid conflict and infuse work with happiness.

A lot of how you react to difficult people will depend on your own awareness, self-esteem, and confidence.

You can de-escalate a situation, and learn to engage your conscious mind, and you can use the techniques below with your boss, a family member, heck even a stranger.

The sad truth is we likely spend more time with our co-workers than with our own families.

Like an old married couple, little things start to annoy us. What is it about the way April lines her snacks up in OCD fashion or sits perfectly straight at her desk that annoys me so.  I’m not a mean person, but where are these horrible thoughts coming from?

Obnoxious behavior like above is much easier to deal with than someone who is personally attacking or undermining you. Difficult people come in all forms. Some people talk, talk, talk and NEVER listen, others are unreliable, others take credit for others achievements. Some co-workers might be competing with you for power, privilege or the spotlight.

But whatever the flavor of difficult person we are dealing with, we can’t let them steal our happiness, we need to address them. Take the situation by the horns, and use these tactics below to help soar into the calm work horizon.

Peace is not about avoiding conflict, conflict is everywhere, life is full of it, it’s about being able to deal with it.”

We’ve all been there—trying unsuccessfully to reason with an incredibly difficult person. It's a frustrating and maddening situation to be in. However, there are proven tactics to dealing with difficult co-workers in a calm, peaceful and dignified manner.
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1. Realize that everyone just wants to be happy – So don’t judge

If there is one thing that all human beings have in common it’s this: We all want to be happy and we don’t want to suffer.

When Tom takes credit for your excellent idea, chances are words such as JERK and —HOLE will appear in CAPS in the smoke coming from your ears. Take a moment to realize that Tom is manipulated by his own deluded mind. Much like cancer is a disease of the body, delusions are a disease of the mind, while invisible at first both multiply unaware that they are destroying the organism which houses them.

You don’t know what Tom might be going through, and chances are if Tom is acting this way, he is feeling vulnerable and scared about something.

On the drive to work, I practice visualizing loving specific positive qualities about my co-workers, the difficult ones in particular. If Terri makes the best chocolate chip cookies, I focus on this and try to let the negatives thoughts dissipate. Always try to reflect respect and dignity towards the other person. (No matter how they have treated you, retaliating will not help resolve the situation).

Even if someone has wronged us, my Buddhist teacher encourages saying “May you be happy.” Know that all beings want happiness, just as you do. This practice develops a loving kindness and when I walk in the door each morning my frame of mind is better equipped to tackle whatever may come up that day.

Mindfulness is a great way to start opening up your mind to a different way of thinking and behaving. If you are interested in starting up an easy Mindfulness practice.

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2. Stay calm and don’t take anything personally

My boss hovers over my shoulder and grumbles, “What were you thinking?” Having had a bad day himself, he walks away without a second thought. But my pride is hurt and now I’m stewing, I roll this over in my mind all day long. I have now exaggerated this small miscommunicated statement into a justifiable reason to quit and allowed myself to feel stupid, devalued, angry and stressed.

Stay calm. 

When a situation is emotionally charged, it’s easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment. This is where we might need to engage in a short breathing meditation. Take slow, deep breaths and perhaps count to 7. If you’d like to snag a meditation starter package for free, do so here.

After you’ve calmed yourself, think about this: Seriously, stop taking things so seriously.

If you envision the entire universe and all the transactions occurring, from robberies, rapes, murder, animal abuse, kidnapping and then look back down at that small interaction, now long since passed you will realize how silly brooding over something so insignificant is.

Let it go.

If you just can’t let it go, and there will be times when even after 2 hours of meditating or mental calming your mind is still agitated, at this point a conversation is in order. You still have a right to set boundaries. You can say, “I don’t like the way you are speaking to me.” But always, always, approach the issue with a clear, calm head.

3. Remain positive. Listen and kill them with kindness

Every time you ask Betty “How are you?” the reply is always the same; “I’ve been up sick all night with a pounding headache…..” and on and on and on. What is your initial reaction? Annoyance? Eye rolling? The quickest escape route?

Listening is an important step in dealing with difficult co-workers (or people in general). Everyone wants to feel heard. Remember to listen to what the other person is saying and don’t focus on your own reply.

What if you responded to Betty, “Wow, its been a tough year for you, I hope you feel better soon.” And what if you really believed it? After your positive response maybe then make a mental note to avoid asking Betty how she is doing for a while. When you notice negative thoughts arise, don’t beat yourself up for having a bad thought; let them pass by, like a cloud floating through the sky.

Remember to appreciate diversity, the world and workplace are all made up of different people with different values, personalities, and delusions. Let them all teach you. Engage situations from new perspectives, you will be amazed at the results of your own behaviors and reactions.

4. Don’t retaliate

The most important lesson is: Do not get angry. When the unavoidable annoyances do creep in, and they will be aware of the danger of anger.

Do Not Retaliate.

Your first knee-jerk reaction might be to meet anger with anger, insults with more insults, sarcasm with sarcasm, but this is just our own habitual neurosis and will continue the cycle of misery.

Take a moment to become aware of your own mind and your own reactions. If you look closely every reaction you encounter will be in precious defense of our obsession with “the self.”

If your boss makes a comment about your sloppy work in a meeting, we may feel embarrassed; immediately a defense props up to protect the “self”. Remember those feelings of embarrassment will fade; nothing is permanent, so say to yourself, “this to shall pass” and let it go.

Work towards letting go of the ego and associated states of mind such as pride, anger, jealousy, and impatience.

When anger does arise, acknowledge the emotion, say to yourself, “my mind is experiencing unpleasantness.” Take some space from the object of your anger. Remember to breathe deeply, meditation practices can be done anywhere at any time just by calming the mind and breathing for a count to 10.

5. Most important practice patient acceptance and loving kindness

If you envision a specific difficult person as your spiritual teacher would that change your perspective of them? Why not pretend that difficult people are here to teach you? Except we don’t need to pretend. They teach patience, acceptance, and recognition of our own delusions.

Instead of the usual reaction of annoyance, silently thank them.

Sounds far-fetched right? Well, it works, I’ve tried it. The anger dissipates, like a gerbil spinning on a wheel you can see their web of delusions at work.

When I practice envisioning my difficult manager has my spiritual teacher my job dissatisfaction is reduced and I experience a peaceful spaciousness within myself

Quick tips for dealing with difficult co-workers:

  1. Don’t be defensive
  2. Avoid smiling or mocking
  3. If the situation gets out of control, find someone who can help.
  4. Know when to walk away and trust your instincts
  5. Ask questions to better understand someone else’s perspective.
  6. Apologize
  7. Release your stress by going for a walk or doing something you love.

Oftentimes if we simply change our perspective we change the relationship.

And finally don’t forget to look inward and recognize that if something annoys you about someone else, chances are that it’s a quality you yourself possess.

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead to an understanding of ourselves.” ~ Carl Jung

There is no evil like anger

And no virtue like patience

We’ve all been there—trying unsuccessfully to reason with an incredibly difficult person. It's a frustrating and maddening situation to be in. However, there are proven tactics to dealing with difficult co-workers in a calm, peaceful and dignified manner.

Gain access to our library of free printables!

Because we all want our kids to be happy and healthy — not just for right now, but for the rest of their lives.

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  1. Washington, DC says:

    I find this post very interesting as I’m a workplace expert. And also blog about organizations and their issues. Interestingly enough, if folks retaliate, take things personal, or fail to find positive things about the workplace, more systemic issues are created. So, its important to use a number of strategies to hold onto positive energy. Great content!

    1. Tina Williamson says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply, holding onto positive energy is challenging at times and definitely requires a number of strategies, and back up plans, especially when working in such close quarters with office mates. I’ve read some of your posts, and especially think the one titled, ‘blame it on the alcohol’ could also be a fast track solution to solve some of these office problems. 😉

  2. LaVagabonde says:

    Great advice..but I’m so glad that I no longer work in an office. 🙂

    1. Tina Williamson says:

      It has its challenges that’s for sure! I would love to say one day maybe I can leave the office world and pursue something I’m more ‘passionate’ about, but until then, I’m going to try my best to be passionate about the office ha ha 🙂

  3. sandradorland says:


    This article was right on time for me. I’ve been practicing “chop wood carry water” consistently for a few months now. This practice was terrific — it detached me, kept me focused, all kinds of good stuff. This was great — until your 2PM scenario started to pop up. And then, like so many fingers stuck in the dike…. my hard work was slowly unravelling as all the rest of your daily list started to present their little selves.

    So thank you. A new strategy and practice for me on Monday. <3

    1. Tina Williamson says:

      I just looked into “Chop Wood Carry Water” and I’m so glad you brought that up, I’ve never heard of this book and it looks amazing! I’ve added to my reading list 🙂
      The 2pm scenario is very difficult, I have days where my mind takes over and says I don’t care what you say, he IS a jerk haha. All in all though these strategies really do make a difference.
      I hope a few of these strategies can help you, and thanks for the book reference!

  4. Pingback: 6 Steps to Freedom From Toxic People
  5. Sophie Dempsey says:

    i am doing a ict project and i need to use this image in it so i am writing to ask for permission to use it in my project.

    1. Tina Williamson says:

      Hi Sophie: What image were you referring to? If you look under the photo’s you will see the original source of the photo’s. They are used under a creative commons license, so you will have to credit the original photographer.

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