We all encounter difficult people and co-workers daily, which can sometimes feel frustrating. It’s tempting to fly off the handle at toxic people since they often don’t realize how their energy impacts others. However, getting angry or passive-aggressive at narcissists is like pouring gasoline on a fire and expecting it to die down. You only worsen the issue when you allow your emotions to control these situations.

Instead, it’s better to utilize compassion and understanding when dealing with difficult people. You might feel like your colleagues will take advantage of your kindness, but that’s not always true. If you set boundaries but still treat them respectfully, you’ll find it easier to manage interactions with them. Below, we’ll explain how you can approach these situations while maintaining your composure.

The Best Way to Handle Difficult Co-workers, According to Experts

You’ll inevitably encounter difficult people and colleagues at some point. Unfortunately, certain people have complicated personalities that tend to wear on your nerves after a while. But remember that people have both darkness and light in them, including yourself. When you interact with troublesome co-workers, try to see their positive traits and always treat with respectfully. If you keep the golden rule in mind, your encounters with them will go more smoothly. Here are a few tips to ensure toxic people don’t steal your inner peace.

difficult co-workers

1. Distinguish between the person and difficult behaviors or choices they make.

We’re often quick to label someone as difficult without taking the time to understand their situation. However, most colleagues don’t set out to ruin someone’s day or purposely get under their skin. They probably have a million things going through their mind and may not realize how their behavior affects people. If you can separate the person from their actions, you might see them in a different light.

Marc Lesser, a speaker, author, and executive coach on mindfulness training, helps major companies like Google and Facebook become more impactful. He says using emotional intelligence and empathy when dealing with challenging colleagues and employees is crucial. By taking time to understand someone’s intentions, you can see them as more than a co-worker with a list of tasks to perform.

Since humans have complex emotions and increasingly busy lives, they may feel overwhelmed or stressed about work. That may affect their decisions and performance, making them behave more erratically. So, by labeling co-workers as narcissists or difficult people, you make a sweeping judgment without seeing the whole picture.

2. Try to understand your co-worker’s perspective.

As we said above, you can only understand someone’s actions if you let them explain their motivations. Practice active listening and allow them to speak without interjecting. If they feel heard and seen, they may cooperate instead of lashing out and becoming difficult.

Remember that those we call “toxic people” often carry the world’s weight on their shoulders. They tend to take their pain and frustration out on others without realizing it, so keep an open heart. Your empathy and understanding could give them hope and encouragement when needed.

Of course, you shouldn’t take responsibility for fixing their situation or allow your feelings to obstruct your reason. Most people want someone to listen to their story, so you’ve done your part by giving them attention. After that, they can decide to make changes and create more favorable conditions for themselves.

3. Set boundaries with difficult colleagues.

Sometimes, it’s essential to establish firm boundaries with narcissists or difficult co-workers. People will treat you how you allow them to, so you must make it clear you won’t tolerate disrespect. If you’ve tried talking with them and they continue misbehaving, you should involve your boss or supervisor. Of course, consider that a last resort and try to work things out with your colleagues first. Most reasonable people will consider your feelings and correct their actions if necessary.

4. Express your mind politely but firmly.

If you’re a passive person, you may have trouble expressing your feelings. You might think you’re burdening others or don’t deserve respect, but you shouldn’t let people walk all over you. When toxic people try to undermine your feelings, that shows they view you as inferior.

That means they’ll do whatever they want without caring about the consequences. Never feel guilty or ashamed about speaking your mind, especially when people mistreat you. Being thoughtful but standing your ground will show narcissists and manipulative people that you’re not a doormat. You can still treat people kindly without letting them take advantage of you.

Remember that being too nice will backfire and often means you feel insecure about yourself. It’s also impossible to please everyone because people have different desires and expectations. Therefore, act respectfully, but never let fear of judgment or criticism keep you from being honest with people.

5. Ask how you can help.

It’s probably the last thing on your mind to offer help when dealing with difficult co-workers. However, you never know what your colleagues are going through behind closed doors. We all need the same basic things: love, compassion, and understanding, to name a few. Your colleagues could use encouragement or advice during a tough time, so try to assist them. Ask them about what’s happening outside of work, and genuinely listen to their story. You might change your perspective on them if you know the reasons behind their behaviors.

difficult co-workers

Final Thoughts on Ways to Interact with Difficult Co-workers

Most of us interact with narcissists and toxic people daily, whether at work or in our personal lives. Sometimes, we’re negative ourselves, as no one feels blissful 100% of the time. By remembering our faults, it’s easier to accept the flaws and complexities in others. So, the best way to handle challenging colleagues involves practicing compassion and empathy. If you treat people with kindness, they’ll most likely return the favor, creating a more positive, stress-free workplace.

Everyone wins when you put yourself in another’s shoes and devise a compassionate solution. Love conquers all, so try to become more selfless in your interactions. Treating difficult people as friends instead of enemies can create the world we wish to see.