Working with Difficult People

In a perfect world, we would all get along. I have a few kids and even they will discuss difficult people at school. The other day I was talking to my son about a particularly difficult person in his life. I asked him how could we handle this situation better? My son got mad at this kid at school and lost his cool.

Working together you can achieve so much more, but there can be friction between people. My first time I was in a leadership position there were a few people who liked to test me. They would try to push me and try to provoke me. I lost my cool once or twice and I quickly learned it pays to keep your cool.


In a work setting, it is important to keep your composure. Sometimes you might need to get some, “fresh air.” Distance and time can be helpful if you feel yourself boiling over. Even just taking a breath and pausing for a second before responding can be helpful.

Focus on Problem-Solving

As you work with difficult people make sure to focus on problems and solutions. Don’t focus on them or other people involved. Find ways you can collaborate with others to resolve the problems at hand. If you begin to mix the people with the issues you will have a mess on your hands.

Limit Time

Career Coach Dan Miller has shared this occasionally on his 48 Days to Work you Love podcast. Some people are three day people or people you can spend three days with. Other people may be three hour people that you want to limit your time with that person. Many difficult people fall into the latter category. Dan even states that some are family and you still need to reduce or eliminate your time with them.

Worthy Fight?

My daughter likes to pick at her brother over many little things. The funny thing is he knows this and will intentionally do things to get her excited. As we have discussed this with her a few times she is beginning to understand that not every issue is worth picking a fight over. We remind her to ask the question, “is this worth my time?” More often than not it is something small. Similar to situations at work, we can blow them up in our minds and think, “how could they do that?” If we ask someone else they would remind us of how petty we can be.


Stephen Covey has a story about this in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People how he thought he was at odds with a person. They both worked at the same institution and seemed to want to move things in different directions. One day he decided to schedule a talk with this person. As they discussed their goals for the organization and what they wanted to accomplish he found they both wanted essentially the same things. What he initially thought would be a tough conversation lead to them both becoming allies. They both could move forward helping each other, this was Win-Win that he discusses in this book.

How have you handled difficult people?

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