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How to Deal with Six Types of Difficult Coworkers

Jan. 06, 2021
Global Knowledge


It’s inevitable. At some point in your career, you’ll find yourself working alongside individuals who fall into the general category of “Difficult People.” The effects these people can have on an organization vary greatly but usually involve many problems for the team. This white paper describes some of the more common types of difficult people (The Steamroller, The Sniper, The "Can't Say No" Person, The Know-It-All, The Complainer, and The Staller) and provides you with tips on how to handle them.



Dealing With the "Can't Say No" Person

This is the person who has a hard time saying no, especially as it relates to work assignments. They will attempt to undertake any assignment including those given to them by people other than their own boss. At first, this might not seem like such a bad arrangement, but over time, there are consequences to this type of behavior.

Why would they do this? Why take on so much? Some people are afraid to say no. They are fearful of being viewed as incompetent or unable to carry enough of the load. Some individuals simply do not know their limits or worse—they ignore them. Establishing boundaries might be one of their weaknesses.

In other situations, the employee is a rookie on the team and doesn't want to let the others down. As a new hire, they might be fearful of being thought of as inadequate or uncooperative. For others, it is a personality issue or even the result of the culture in which they were raised. In some cultures, saying no is highly discouraged. As a result, people raised in this environment have a hard time balancing the workload effectively.

In dealing with an individual who can't turn down an assignment, meeting, or task, the first step is build a relationship with them or establishing a rapport. Earn their trust and get them to be comfortable with you. After you have established stronger ties, let them know about your concerns for them.

Once you have built up a solid level of trust, you can begin asking questions designed to help them understand that they are out of balance. The key is care because there is a strong likelihood they may be sensitive or defensive. In their mind, they are doing a beneficial or selfless thing. From their vantage point, if they were not doing the work, it would not get accomplished. Quite often though, even if they do manage to complete all of the work that they have taken on, the quality of that work will suffer due to being stretched too thin.

Occasionally you will find the "Can't Say No" individual who is able to accomplish all the work with an acceptable, and perhaps even excellent, level of quality. The problem here is that rarely will they be able to maintain that momentum. There is a high probability they will eventually burn out. At that point, they will be of no use to the team, and, more importantly, they will have done quite a bit of harm to themselves in the process. Recovery from a true burnout stage requires tremendous time. Our goal is to prevent the "Can't Say No" person from ever reaching anything close to that stage.

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