How to Work with Difficult People

Based on book review on “Working with Difficult People”

by Muriel Solomon

Working with Difficult People – Book Review

Working with Difficult People – There are a lot of difficult people out there, you might be one of the so-called “difficult people”. So, that’s what makes this book particularly interesting to me. Although the book might be slightly repetitive.

Los Angeles Dodgers manager, Tommy LaSorda infamous quote, “80% of people don’t want to hear about your problem, and the other 20% are happy you’re having trouble.”

That 20 % are the backstabbers, saboteurs, sadists, know-it-alls, insulters and hotheads, are the subject of Muriel Solomon’s Working with Difficult People. He categorizes many types of difficult people we might encounter at work. Each personality is explained why such individuals think and act and how we likely to react to their behaviour, and what strategies we could use to protect ourselves.

This book can help us to minimize the damage done by such difficult people since getting away from them at times might just be IMPOSSIBLE. Or, if that doesn’t work, you can quote Shakespeare: “I do desire we may be better strangers.” Forsooth.


Working with Difficult People Pin

  • Adopt the right perspective when dealing with difficult people. We need to realize that their actions aren’t personal.
  • If people attack you, put your hurt feelings aside. Plan a constructive response.
  • Don’t expect them to change. On the plus side, this makes them predictable.
  • Let people know that their negative actions or attitudes hurt you. They might be unintentional.
  • Ask for feedback on how the boss and others in your organization feel about you. Use open-ended questions to elicit the most meaningful responses.
  • Never make the work problems between you and someone else into a personal matter. Frame disputes in the context of procedures, policies and goals. What happens at works stays at work.
  • Be direct and discrete on personal disagreements at work.
  • Protect yourself, get everything in black and white.
  • Keep calm, professional and respectful.
  • Never respond with rudeness or incivility when people transgress against you. If you do, they win.

Working with Difficult People – Book Summary

In a Personal Spat, Avoid Tit-for-Tat

When people wrong you, it is natural to react with anger. But these emotions will only keep us from thinking clearly, and a clear mind is what we need most when under attack.

So, how should we respond when someone insults us? A direct personal attack?

Keep the high ground. Do not respond in kind. You always lose when you get down in the mud with an aggressor.

Instead, stay calm. Count to 10. Gather your wits.

Then plan a strategic response that will let you mitigate the situation and protect yourself against future attacks.

“No matter how bright you are, being angry, hurt or disappointed blocks your good judgment.”

The Difficult People

Read the following roster to identify some of the many contentious personality types you may bump up against at work and to gain some ideas on how to deal with them so they can’t do you any lasting harm.


Hostile People

Cute but deadly angry panda
Cute but deadly angry panda

Hostile angry people usually carry numerous personal problems. Hence, making them depressed and constantly steamed. Usually, they cannot feel good about themselves until they make us angry as well. But beware of cultural and personality effect, since in some culture, they might sound angry, but to them it just a normal tone.

Back to working with difficult people, categorised as “hostile people”. We can count on them to look hard for our weak point and to attack us there.

If they become a supervisor, well they will be a very problematic supervisor.

So, how to deal with an angry boss?

The best way to deal with an angry boss is to avoid losing our temper. Speak up for yourself. Don’t be afraid; you can defend yourself without seeming insubordinate.

Demonstrating weakness to a bullying boss is like tossing red meat into a shark tank. Look the boss in the eye and inform him or her that you expect to be treated with respect. Use self-confidence and a friendly manner to deflect and defuse your boss’s anger.

Always maintain your self-esteem.

“What do people with personal problems do when they go to work? They pack up their troubles in an old attaché case and growl, growl, growl.”

Dealing with angry colleagues

First and foremost, don’t let angry colleagues push your buttons.

Try to maintain a professional attitude even if they don’t since angry people love to argue. Don’t fall into their trap.

remember to Keep Calm
Keep Calm

Angry people argue not to prove their point but to rattle you. Hence, wait until they cool down and then try to find out what set off their tantrum.

Calmly discuss any problem they have and try to demonstrate that you are actually trying to help. Diffuse their anger. Some angry subordinates hide their feelings but secretly try to screw things up. To head off trouble, make sure angry workers are respected and included. They are less likely to trash the team if they feel ownership.


Pushy People

Pushy people want to be liked but since they often insist on getting their way, it could be a little bit complicated. When people avoid them, they feel more isolated, which makes them push harder. So, try no to take things personally, it’s their personality.

Pushy Boss and Colleagues

If your boss is pushy, try to manoeuvre so he or she feels that your good ideas are his or her good ideas. Arrogant colleagues want to jam their ideas down your throat. Don’t let them.

Show that you are not a doormat.

This is just as important regarding your supervisors as it is regarding your subordinates. Don’t let pushy subordinates bend the rules. They will try to get others to join in to subvert your authority.

Handling Pushy Subordinates

Start by being solicitous toward all of your direct reports. Be open and accessible. If you notice a potentially subversive clique forming, reassign some of the members to other teams, or change their lunch and break times.

That will make it harder for them to connive with each other. Arrogant workers can be particularly hard on their co-workers. Let bullies know that you will stand up for the employees whom they push around.


Deceitful People

Liars, you never know what they might be trying to pull. They will cheat, distort facts and try to trick you at every turn. Hypocritical people are always two-faced. They act positively toward you when you’re around, but try to sell you down the river when you’re not.

Your goal is to get straightforward input in all of your dealings with dishonest people. Question them so they must provide direct answers.

Do you have a deceitful boss?

Ask him or her to put any important work orders or concerns in writing or to announce them in public. That makes it difficult for the boss to wiggle out of a commitment. If the boss backpedals on a promise, speak directly to him or her in a calm, professional manner to make it clear that you expect promises to be honoured.

Deceitful colleagues

Deceitful colleagues will try to appropriate your good ideas, steal the credit and profit from your mistakes. Confrontation with such liars always backfires.

To avoid problems, protect your valuable ideas; don’t overshare anything, don’t share them with people who will try to take them.

Never let backstabbers get away with sneaky efforts to make you look bad. Confront them directly. That’s the only way they will behave.


Shrewd People

Shrewd or manipulative individuals are seldom forthright and above-board. They do their best to exploit you. Watch for body language signals that help you understand this kind of individual.

Manipulative Boss

Is your boss a whip-cracking, exploitative person who will pile on as much work as possible?

If so, insist on getting all your assignments prioritized in writing.

Manipulative Colleagues

Manipulative colleagues will do their best to shunt their responsibilities to you and to make you feel guilty for saying no.

See their game clearly. Learn to say NO.


Rude People

Some people seem to go out of their way to be rude. No one else matters to them. They will walk all over you if you let them. They might ridicule and criticize you about your work, talk down to you or openly insult you.

When you deal with such people, never sink to their level.

Don’t lower your own standard.

“Learn to stand up for yourself and express your anger in a positive way.”

Rude Boss

If a boss is being rude or mocking, schedule a meeting to ask exactly what he or she hopes to have you do. Explain that displaying such disrespect in the workplace is extremely inappropriate – and ask the boss to stop.

Rude Colleague

If a colleague is hurling insults, find out why. Make it clear that you will not accept insults. Establish clear boundaries defining acceptable behaviour.

Rude Subordinate

If a subordinate is openly defiant, have a conversation. Get everything out on the table.

If you are at fault, apologize and discontinue the provocative behaviour. If not, explain in a calm, professional manner that any further inappropriate insubordination will have negative consequences, up to and including dismissal.


Egotistical People

Some people are convinced they are much better and more important than others. When dealing with such individuals, our natural tendency will be to expose their self-centeredness to everyone.

This is a wasted effort.

They will never change and you will make them your enemies.

Egotistical Boss

Egotistical bosses may ignore or discount your good ideas. They may brush you off if you approach them for assistance. Many conceited people are grandstanders and show-offs. They act superior and snub other people. Since egotists are self-contained universes, they can damage you only if you let them. If you have a healthy sense of self-worth, their snobbery and nose-in-the-air attitudes will come across as what they are – silly and sad.

“Put problem people in proper perspective.”

Know-it-all colleagues or subordinates

Know-it-all colleagues or subordinates can be particularly aggravating. They often do have useful knowledge, so ask them for their information. Use penetrating questions that demand specific, quantifiable answers. Check what they say with your own independent research.

However, do not challenge them in a direct or confrontational style. Instead, offer your own data in an objective, detached manner.


Procrastinating People

People who put things off might have self-esteem issues. Issues which stem from self-doubt and fear of failure which stops them from moving forward. They claim they do not have time to do more, but in truth, they are frustrated and fearful that they can’t handle new tasks or might fail.

Procrastinating Boss

Bosses who always put things off can drive their direct reports crazy.

“Don’t expect difficult people to change.”

The best way to handle them is to back off and quit pushing. Ask for a meeting only when you are confident that the boss is ready to discuss why he or she is being a bottleneck on your project, whether deliberately or not.

Help your boss feel comfortable enough with you to speak openly. Ask nonthreatening questions in an indirect way. Pay close attention to the boss’s demeanour and body language; discern what he or she isn’t saying by reading the boss’s gestures, facial expressions and tone.

Procrastinating Colleagues and Subordinates

You also might have trouble with perfectionist colleagues and subordinates who delay projects because nothing is ever good enough. Explain that the “perfect is the enemy of the good.” Instead, help them become better organized. Establish firm deadlines with such slowpokes and do not waver. Teach them on how to break a project down into manageable parts.


Rigid People

Rigid Boss

Many bosses have a “my way or the highway” attitude and are unwilling to follow anyone else’s suggestions. They become controlling and immersed in minor details that they lose sight of the big picture.

You cannot tell them anything, because they will not hear you. If you speak up, they immediately go on the defensive and later they hold grudges about your insubordination.

To persuade rigid bosses, provide authoritative information that they can trust. Try to understand how your boss, with his or her additional responsibilities and concerns.

Offer proposals with this viewpoint in mind. Pigheaded bosses are often determined to keep things on track even if the path leads straight off a cliff. With this type of boss, learn how to avoid being the recipient of direct instructions, but try not to seem insubordinate.

Focus your efforts on solving problems that confront your boss. If your boss will not budge on a matter that you question, strictly adhere to his or her direct instructions, but get them in writing.

Again, document all your work to protect yourself.


Tight-Lipped People

Getting along with people who never speak is simply difficult. You have no idea how they feel. Maybe they’re taciturn because they’re contemplative and spend a great deal of time thinking before speaking. Or maybe they clam up because they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing.

Uncommunicative iceberg boss

Warming up an uncommunicative iceberg boss is a tough one. Try to establish trust. Show your boss that you are dependable and friendly. If your boss refuses to face things, try to find some way to get him or her to commit. Evaders dread confrontations, so explain your proposal or plan calmly, collegially and carefully. If the boss has no clear objections, proceed – but only little by little.

You might call this the fait-accompli approach.

Tight-lipped Subordinate

Some subordinates are not only tight-lipped; they also have a habit of glaring at you like you stole something from them. Get such a person to dial down their hostile feelings by providing an opportunity for him or her to open up and tell you what is wrong.


Critical People

No matter what you do, you can’t please some people. Bake them a cake and they’ll be mad that you didn’t bring ice cream. Such individuals criticize other people all day long. They are always right; everyone else is always wrong.

Critical bosses

Critical bosses are inveterate faultfinders and nitpickers. Your best strategy is to stay out of the way. If this is impossible (and it usually is), never criticize your boss directly. He or she will pink-slip you in a minute. When the boss criticizes you, try to defuse the situation quickly by saying thanks for the “helpful input.” Always pay close attention to the instructions and guidance that a critical boss provides. Fail to do so and you’re a dead duck.

Is your boss a “hanging judge,” that is, someone who is always ready to assume the worst about you without the facts?

If so, put away your hurt feelings. They are meaningless to such a person. Demonstrate by your demeanour that you’re confident the boss’s attitude will change once all the information is available. Show that you remain on the boss’s side despite his or her (unjust) suspicions or accusations against you. Whatever you do, don’t attempt to bring things to ahead. Leave your boss the psychological space to get back on your side once he or she cools down.


Further reading after Working with Difficult People

Read The Book


Author: Muhamad Aarif

A notorious book addict by night and an oil and gas executive by day. As Mark Twain said, "The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them." So, read, read, and read some more.

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