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Dealing With Difficult Coworkers: Three People No One Can Work With

If you read your organization’s handbook carefully you will see, in the very fine print, the rule stating that there will be three people in your organization who no one can work with. Everyone knows who these people are. They are the people who employees are afraid of, who tend to make others’ lives hard, and who no one wants to work for.

Employees wonder, doesn’t anyone in management know about these people? Why isn’t anyone DOING anything? Someone is most likely doing something. Dealing with difficult coworkers just take time to work themselves out. And managers can’t talk about others’ performance with you, as you wouldn’t want them talking about your performance with others.

What to do in the face of a crazymaker who doesn’t appear to be going anywhere?

Crazymakers are often bullies and bullies push the people around who let them do so. Despite your fear, give it right back to a bully. Chances are she will back off and find someone else to pick on. Do this professionally. Don’t compromise your own reputation by interacting with a bully in the way she interacts with you.

Work around the person. I’m not giving you a pass to avoid the people you don’t like working with. If you have done everything you can to work well with someone and he won’t work with you, do your minimal best. Be polite and respectful. Keep the person in the loop when necessary. But don’t go out of your way to nurture the relationship. You can’t work with someone who won’t work with you.

Doing everything to work well with someone includes talking to the person about your working relationship, admitting it’s strained, and asking for feedback about what would improve the relationship. Doing everything might involve getting a third party or outside mediator to broker a conversation. It might include weekly meetings to ensure regular communication. If you’ve tried ALL of these things with no outcome, then you can work around the person. But everything is NOT, “I sent three emails and didn’t hear back.”

Dealing With Difficult Coworkers

You can leave your organization to avoid the person who makes you crazy, but s/he will be waiting for you at the next company in a different body.

If you like the work you’re doing and, for the most part, like where you work, don’t let dealing with difficult coworkers drive you from the organization. Ask for help. Let someone who can do something about the situation, assist you or at least give you the go ahead to work around that person, when possible. And if the situation becomes untenable, before you resign, tell someone in a position of formal authority that you’re at the end of your rope and you’re planning to leave. If something is going to change in the short term, he or she will often know and tell you.


Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at

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3 Responses to “Dealing With Difficult Coworkers: Three People No One Can Work With”

  1. RG says:

    LOL! I’ve found two of them in my organization. Now I’m just afraid of where the other one is lurking. I’m sure I’ll find him/her soon enough.

    But seriously, I’m assigned to work with a manager who is notoriously difficult, yet I haven’t had a bit of trouble with him. When I first started, I met with him, mainly kept my mouth shut, and listened to what he felt he needed from HR but wasn’t getting. Then I set about figuring out how to provide those things in ways that were consistent with HR and organization standards. He loves me because he knows I “get” him and get things done for him, and everyone else thinks I’m some kind of magician for getting him to play nice. He was being a bully because it was the only way he felt he could get what he needed for his programs. Some people are just mean, but sometimes they’re feeling invisible and powerless.

  2. Amber says:

    What do you do if one if these folks is your boss?

    • shari says:

      Hi Amber — Thanks for your question. It’s very difficult to work with a difficult boss and/or someone you don’t trust or respect. I’m hesitant to suggest people to leave a job because of his or her boss, because I find that boss’s move and you can leave your job and your old boss is gone six months later. I think these things tend to work themselves out, although not always on our timeline. If you find it too difficult to work with your boss, and you’ve attempted to strengthen the relationship, and you don’t think s/he is going anywhere, it might make sense to look elsewhere either internally or externally. I hope that helps!

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