None of us are perfect. We all come with a diverse mix of both weaknesses and strengths that play a major role in how we handle everyday situations both personally and professionally. Throw these traits into our workplace, combined with all the other varying personalities of our co-workers, and we have quite a concoction of potential conflict just waiting to shake things up. 

It should be pretty obvious to most that getting along with the people you work with plays a significant factor in the productivity, collaboration, and overall success of your company. However, when a group of people are working closely together on projects day in and day out, stressful situations are bound to materialise, and these don’t always bring out the best in people. 

Here are seven strategies to help you effectively handle some of the more challenging personalities you work with every day. 


Master the art of self-awareness.


It all starts with taking a look at what you do and don’t have control over. You can’t control how others act, but you can control how you react and manage your own emotions in any given situation. It’s called self-awareness, and it can be the key to masterfully handling difficult co-workers and stressful situations. 


What does it mean to be self-aware? It means you are intentional about noticing your own feelings, thoughts, behaviours, and general triggers that have a tendency to push your buttons and provoke you. Essentially, it involves noticing the specific things difficult people do that get under your skin. Self-awareness is a valuable skill that enables you to look at the whole picture and both sides of an issue. 


Take a look at the bigger picture.


We all go through ups and downs; it’s a fact of life. So, keep that in mind if a co-worker seems unusually curt or difficult. They may be going through something they’re not willing to share with others and may just feel overwhelmed by their circumstances. This is a good reminder to not always take things personally or as a direct result of something you’ve done or said. Not every negative or uncomfortable encounter is meant to be targeted at you, so take a few minutes to step back and assess the situation fully. 


It’s easy for your first instinct to be reactive; however, the best way you can handle a situation like this is just to offer help and not create a hostile environment, even if someone else is. This is also a great opportunity to learn from the situation and make a conscious effort to keep your own personal problems separate from work. Although this can be difficult to do sometimes, if you don’t, it can have a negative impact on your productivity and your attitude toward others in the workplace.


Take a deep breath.


Losing your cool and lashing out at your co-worker will never produce favourable results. In most cases, it will only encourage the other person to push back in an even more negative way than in the initial conflict. When confronted with an adverse situation in which you feel your defences coming up, take a step back and breathe. You might even need to excuse yourself for a moment to get your emotions under control so that you can return with the ability to handle things in a more appropriate and professional manner. 


When you are able to stay calm, you will end up having more control over the situation, and you will be viewed as more respectable and professional by others who are working nearby. Think about it: Would you prefer to work with someone who is able to stay cool under pressure, or someone who is viewed as a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off at the slightest misstep? When the person you are in conflict with has a firsthand account of your ability to remain calm despite their own loss of composure, you will be well on your way to setting a positive precedent for any future interactions that may take place.


Ask for advice.


If you find yourself truly struggling with an individual and are at a loss of how to handle it, seek some unbiased advice from someone you trust. Most likely your colleagues, friends, or even family members have experienced similar situations. However, it’s important to truly assess your motives. 


This is not meant to be a venting session or an excuse to gossip and stir the pot. This is an opportunity to check your emotions and truly listen for helpful advice on how others were able to handle difficult people and move on. Someone else who is removed from the situation will be able to see things from a fresh viewpoint, offer a different perspective on the situation, and hopefully provide you with a possible resolution to your problem.   


Build a bridge.


Technology is an amazing tool in the world of business. However, with all the computers, laptops, emails, and messaging systems, our work life begins to become very mechanical and can lead to a vast disconnect between you and your colleagues. How many times have you heard of an email or message interpreted in an entirely different manner than it was ever intended from the sender? In the busyness of the day, we can become harried and rushed, increasing the probability of quickly sending a message that comes across extremely curt or rude. 


Take time to promote healthy relationships by connecting with your colleagues on a more personal level. This could be anything from going out together for coffee or grabbing a quick bite to eat. Whatever it is, it will give all of you a chance to get to know one another as people and not just co-workers. Show you care about learning more about their families, their hobbies, and just their overall lives outside of work. This will help promote healthier communication, an increased understanding of one another, and a stronger sense of teamwork at the office. 


Create boundaries.


If you’ve reached a breaking point, exhausted all of your efforts, and just don’t know what else to do, it may be time to create some healthy and apparent boundaries where that person is involved. Obviously, you work together, so it will be almost impossible to completely avoid this person. However, you can say a lot with your body language and your reluctance to engage in unnecessary conversation.  


To begin with, don’t interact with this person unless it’s specifically related to work. Next, be calm and professional in regard to the task at hand. Then, when you are finished, simply disengage yourself from any further conversation, and hopefully, they’ll get the hint. 


Take it to the top.


Unfortunately, if you are completely out of other options, there are occasional situations that may warrant you visiting with your manager to resolve conflict. Sometimes, the only way to get resolution in a matter is to go straight to the top. However, this should be your final option as you don’t want to come across as being unable to handle problems or find ways to proactively diffuse conflict. When handled professionally and astutely, visiting with your manager is one of the most effective tools in motivating difficult people who refuse to compromise to rein it in and behave more like a team player. 


Working with challenging personalities can have a very pronounced effect on your morale, work performance, and your ability to just quite simply function. Remember, the only person you can control is you. Do your best to collaborate with others and maintain a pragmatic grasp of understanding how people work and behave differently. In the end, however, never compromise your own personal boundaries or your ability to successfully perform your job.


Faye Ferris

APAC Sales and Marketing Director at
Faye Ferris is the APAC Sales and Marketing Director for, one of the world’s largest online global marketplaces for buying and selling small to medium-sized businesses. Faye is passionate about helping Australian small businesses succeed and regularly writes about entrepreneurship and business management.
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