Career Path

How to Deal With Difficult People at Work

Learn how to navigate office dynamics when you come in contact with the jokester, the naysayer, and the people pleaser.

Every office has that one person you just can’t quite understand—or stand, for that matter. Maybe it’s the way he pompously presents himself, or her overeager tendencies. Whatever the reason, you dread seeing that person hit the break room at the same time as you.

And for all you know, you may be that person that other people try to avoid, even though you do your job really well. But if you can’t deal with difficult people at work, you’re never going to get ahead in your career, and challenging workplace dynamics can actually drag you down. According to a study from Harvard University, 80% of employees said they lost work time worrying about a toxic employee’s rudeness and 66% found that their own performance declined when surrounded by such colleagues.

The naysayer provides opposition during the decision-making process, which has proven to make teams more effective and companies more profitable.

To better navigate office dynamics, we asked career pros how to deal with difficult people at work—and what to do if we find one of these three personality quirks in ourselves.

The Jokester

This is a person who’s highly capable, but whether they’re causing others to feel uncomfortable intentionally or unintentionally through weird behavior, they’re often the odd one out at lunchtime. They might deliver basic information as if it’s a doom-and-gloom scenario, joking about being “the bogeyman.” Or they might react to polite banter over, say, potential names for a baby with a quip such as “That name sounds like it could belong to a dead grandmother.” As you can see, many of these out-of-place comments highlight issues with interpersonal skills. That makes the most casual of conversations—like what you did this weekend—an uncomfortable chat for all involved.

If you’re a jokester, the way forward can often mean just acknowledging and embracing who you are, says Nancy Von Horn, a Korn Ferry Advance career coach. Or if you interact with a jokester, realize that they struggle to socialize, and that by trying to bring them into the conversation, you could be helping them out.

By “tiptoeing into sharing,” Von Horn says, you will get more comfortable with revealing more about yourself. Then you—or that person—will be in on the jokes, instead of being the punch line.

The Naysayer

We all know this type of person: the one saying no when everyone else says yes. But what you might not realize is that some of the reticence this person shows can help the company. That’s because the naysayer provides opposition during the decision-making process, which has proven to make teams more effective and companies more profitable. So if you’re this person, realize your value but also understand that you “don’t want to be seen as the adversary all the time,” Von Horn says. Where the naysayer often goes wrong in office dynamics is that they always push back, no matter how strong the plan or how small the discussion. Sometimes you need to concede and show optimism in the work that’s being done.

For those who are constant naysayers, career pros suggest practicing positivity. It’s as simple as it sounds. Take an hour and say yes to everything, ignoring every negative thought. You’re trying to train your mind to let some positivity in, so that you’re not simply squashing ideas for negativity’s sake. And if you’re the colleague of a naysayer, remember that the person’s intention isn’t all doom and gloom, but highlighting things that should be thought through and, occasionally, sparking debate. Often those disagreements can help teams come up with stronger, better solutions.

The People Pleaser

The flip side to the naysayer is the overly optimistic people pleaser. This person wants everyone to get along, which on the surface sounds nice. But you know that no matter how efficiently an office works, that’s not always going to happen. Nor does it mean that everything is running smoothly just because someone says “Oh, that’s nothing to worry about.” In fact, being a people please can hurt the company—and your own career. That’s because if you’re spending more time trying to mend fences than actually getting your work done, you’re at risk of becoming the go-to resource for everyone to dump extra work on. “People pleasers believe they will just get noticed for the good work or good deeds,” Von Horn says. “We know that is not the way it works.”

If you’re this type, you need to learn to say no—both when you disagree with something and when you’re asked to take on something you don’t have time for. If you need to, take a couple hours before committing to something or voicing your thoughts. You might realize, with a little thought, that the extra tasks are actually a classic project dump.

free career assessment
free career assessment