Work Life

How to Deal with a Difficult Boss or Co-worker

By  | 

Dealing with a difficult boss or coworker is, well let’s face it, difficult. If it’s a matter of not fitting into an organization as a whole, that’s one thing, but when you genuinely like your job and the company you work for but have challenging personalities to manage, that’s another story.

Here are a few tips to help you deal:

1) You can only control your reactions.

Remember, it’s hard to change another person’s behavior, the only thing you can do is change the way you choose to react or see the situation. Try to stay calm and maintain a high level of professionalism. Engaging in badmouthing either the boss or your colleague won’t get you anywhere and will only intensify your feelings. You think you’re blowing off steam, but in fact you’re making the problem worse for yourself internally.

2) With a tough boss, try to see things from their perspective.

Ask yourself what motivates them, what their goals are and how you can help best achieve results in those areas within your job function. You’ll also want to frame your communications with the boss in relatable terms. If they have a weakness, try to work around it. For example, if your boss changes her mind often about certain things, be sure you’re documenting what’s asked of you and be clear about your understanding of the request. This way, when you’re asked why you’re doing xy&z you can share the email you sent her recapping your discussion and your agreed upon action plan.

It’s also great to pick up on the way the boss likes things done and try to follow suit. If you’re going to a meeting and your presentation style is much more “shoot from the hip” and hers is more traditional with PowerPoint slides and all…try to adapt. If she likes to follow an agenda, take the liberty of typing one up for your next meeting to show you’ve observed what she likes and are trying to do things her way.

3) Rise above it.

If you truly have an unbearable boss, be sure you don’t fall into the trap of letting their bad behavior, such as taking extra long lunches or speaking down to subordinates, serve as justification for you to do the same. People are always watching. Don’t sink to their level.

If you’re open to new opportunities, search our open roles now.

4) To avoid or not to avoid.

When dealing with difficult co-workers, our initial reaction may be to avoid them…great, do that as much as possible and interact only when necessary. Depending on the nature of your work together, this is easier done with some more than others. But even then, the ignoring tactic can become exhausting and unpleasant in and of itself. Gentle sarcasm or humor are usually the best way to disarm a crabby co-worker, when done properly, that and a strong dose of positivity. “You’re so funny when you get frustrated with me” coupled with a smile just might do the trick. But sometimes a calm and healthy conversation is in order. “I’m really sorry if I did something to upset you. I get the feeling that you’re frustrated with me when we work on projects together. Do you want to get a coffee and talk about it?”

5) Pick and choose what you share.

Complaints to the boss about a co-worker should be left to things that are affecting the business….is the work suffering because the two of you just can’t get along. Otherwise, if it’s personal, let it stay there.

The fact is, you’re not going to like everyone you work with. Sometimes it comes down to personality, but generally, things like passive aggressiveness comes from someone feeling somehow threatened by the other. Keeping this in mind, try complimenting the aggressor on something such as a presentation or a deal they negotiated, just like you would anyone else. Our natural tendency might be to not compliment them because they’ve acted distastefully towards us in the past, but if you can acknowledge their success, it may diffuse the tension and hopefully help you both get past it.


About the Author: 

Michele Mavi has nearly 15 years of experience as a recruiter, interview coach, and resume writer. She is Atrium Staffing’s resident career expert, as well as director of internal recruiting and content development. She also founded Angel Films, a division of Atrium Staffing focused on the creation of recruiting and training videos.

For over 20 years, Atrium has been partnering with the most in-demand brands and fashion houses in the world, placing freelance and full-time talent in jobs they love.