How to Deal with Annoying (I Mean Difficult) Coworkers

annoying coworkers

Ahhh, that annoying (I mean difficult) coworker. You know the one… they get under your skin every time you interact with them. Today I’m going to teach you the top seven difficult types of coworkers and my effective tools to deal with each one. It’s time to move from frustrated and stuck to more connected and collaborative.

10-minute read

Watch my TEDx talk to Learn the Real Reason Relationships Fail.


Who Bugs the $hit Out of You?

We all have an Achilles heel (yes, even me). The key is to identify who bugs you and then take a minute to think about why. What characteristics do they have? What kind of personality traits, situations, or people tend to trigger you? Likely it’s the same type of person in your personal life as well as your work life.

The deal is to stop seeing them as the enemy and to stop complaining about them. What’s the story you’re telling yourself about this person? What have you decided is a fact? What else could be true, or what other narrative could you have to describe this person or the situation?

Seven Types of Difficult Coworkers and How to Deal

Type I: The Borderline Coworker

They love you one minute and hate you the next. They seem to cause trouble in all their relationships. They’ll go from sweet and loving to furious and lashing out. There are a lot of intense feelings, conflict, and instability. You’ll notice a lot of chaos in their life, including suicide attempts, cutting, abortions or unplanned pregnancies, accidents, fights, sexually transmitted diseases, physical issues, or chronic pain. Their personal life will interfere with their work life quite a bit, and they don’t tend to keep jobs very long (unless it’s the kind where they have a ton of autonomy. We often say that people with BPD are Self-loathing narcissists (“Everyone is against me because I’m so special”).

They have a selective memory, so you don’t get “money in the savings account” with borderlines. The fact that you’ve been helping them out for years at work doesn’t matter if you do that one thing that pisses them off. They can turn on you very quickly. There’s also something we call Projection and Projection Identification, which basically means they accuse you of being horrible for so long that you actually become horrible. They will often seem very polarized about people. You’re either the angel or the devil in their life.

Tips for Dealing with the Borderline Coworker

  • Containment and redirection
  • Super clear (even rigid) boundaries with them
  • Knowing you’ll be either good or bad and not trying to change that
  • Stick to plans; don’t let urgency drive you
  • Deal with the behavior, not the person. The goal is a solution.
  • Watch for splitting with the boss or other coworkers (telling you one thing and the boss another).


Learn more about coping with Borderline Personality Disorder here.


Type II: The Angry Coworker

Dealing with coworkers who are angry, aggressive, or confrontational is exhausting. They try to bulldoze, argue or dominate, which leaves you feeling inadequate, frustrated, upset, or resentful.  There are lots of reasons why people are angry or confrontational. I’d say that almost all of them come down to control. They fear losing control and/or want more control (again, from fear) in a given situation. Some specific reasons a coworker might act angrily include:

  1. Low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy and insecurity
  2. They feel misunderstood, frustrated, unheard, or mistreated
  3. To feel superior or to show dominance
  4. To compete and win or show others that they’re better
  5. Because they’ve got an untreated (or undertreated/mistreated) mental illness such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or narcissism

Tips for Dealing with the Angry Coworker

  • Remember that anger is the bodyguard of fear, so focus on their fear, not their anger.
  • Ask questions; don’t lecture.
  • Be an assertive communicator. At its core, assertive communication comes from respect and compassion for yourself and the other person. It means you care about others without worrying about others. Being an assertive communicator will help you in all areas of your life, which is why I did a whole episode on the topic.
  • Your mantra is: “I can’t control what they’re doing, but I can control my response.”
  • Ask them how they feel. They’ll try to give you thoughts, but if you can keep at them, you’ll eventually get to a feeling. We connect with feelings, not thoughts, so this will be a step toward true connection and shifting the trajectory of the conversation. Getting the person in the here and now will often stop aggression. They’re scared, so if you can get them into the moment and to a place where they don’t feel a need to defend themselves, the aggression will calm.
  • Hold your boundary. Be clear about what specific responses you’ll have if they continue to act this way with you in this conversation, and then follow through!
  • Their reactions are 100% about them, no matter how much they might try to deflect or place them on you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality. End of. Don’t take it personally. This is 100% about them, not you.


Dealing with Aggressive People is exhausting! Learn how to handle these situations with ease and peace.


Type III: The Identified Patient Coworker

In the mental health field, we often speak about the “identified patient” or IP. This is the person who’s been identified for treatment or as the problem in a family. These IP’s also have jobs, and they bring that role of being a problem to work. In other words, there’s always an issue. Maybe it’s a mental health issue (that you know all about), maybe it’s unresolved grief, an issue with their parents/wife/Pet/Third Cousin, or maybe it’s you! No matter what, they’ll focus on anything but the real issue.

Tips for Dealing with the IP Coworker

  • Stay in the here and now with what’s happening.
  • Don’t feed the story.
  • I hear you, and how are we going to deal with this now?
how to be mindful

Type IV: The Negative/Blaming/ Complaining/Victim Coworker

Oy, the complaining negative coworker. They don’t like their job, their desk chair, what they had for lunch, or their boss. Anytime someone gives them feedback, they’re defensive and deflecting. When someone new joins the team, they notice all their negative aspects and will catastrophize and doomsday until it’s time to sign off or go home. They’ve always had lousy bosses and have been treated unfairly.

Tips for Dealing with This Coworker

  • Use direct communication to communicate the impact of their negative behaviors on you, your coworkers, and the office environment.
  • “I hear your complaints about (insert topic here); what can you do RIGHT NOW to feel better about this?”
  • “We’ll get back to your complaints in a minute. First, can you tell me what this reminds you of?”

Overall, you want to look for CRAVE and, when any of these are present, stop the conversation because it’s like speaking to a drunk person.

Type V: The Gossiping Coworker

Gossiping in the workplace is always detrimental. It creates a difficult work environment because it distracts employees from their duties and undermines trust in the workplace.

Tips for Dealing with the Gossiping Coworker

  • Try staying out of gossipy conversations and avoid sharing details of your personal life.
  • Let go of the idea that gossip within the office can be controlled and instead focus on your own behavior and setting a good example for others.
  • Directly question them and ask what they said. Bring together people as needed to understand what transpired. Tell them the impact their behavior has on you.
  • Be mindful that your conversation with them will likely create more gossip.

Type VI: The Control Freak Coworker

There are a few specific ways control freaks show up at the office.

  • Micromanagement: they have an opinion on every little thing you do and the “right” way to do it.
  • Manipulation: you feel manipulated into doing what they want, although you often don’t realize it until after.
  • Emotionally bullying behavior: this can look like constant criticism, taunting, or gaslighting.
  • Interrupting: This is when there’s a consistent pattern of interrupting you or speaking over you in conversation.
  • Making decisions without including you
  • Attacking you when you confront them: When you draw a boundary (“Please don’t speak to me in that way”), they’ll likely attack you (“Why are you yelling at me when I was just trying to help?”), or they might even accuse you of being controlling.
  • They step over boundaries or go outside the scope of their job.

Tips for Dealing with the Control Freak Coworker

  • Figure out your boundaries and stick to them.
  • Don’t try to control a control freak.
  • Don’t get into a power struggle.
  • Hold onto a mantra using the “I Feel Formula.”
  • Check in with your gut.

Type VII: The Narcissistic/Gaslighting Coworker

Remember that we’re not diagnosing anyone as a narcissist, but you might notice narcissistic tendencies such as:

  • Self-centered: it’s all about them, all the time
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Needing constant praise or reassurance
  • Acting like a victim and blaming you or others when things go wrong
  • Exaggerate their successes and achievements
  • Monopolize conversations
  • Belittle or put down others in an effort to make themselves superior
  • Reacting negatively to any feedback or criticism
  • Little or no self-awareness



Are you being gaslit? Here are the signs and what to do about it.



A Quick Word on Gaslighting

  • Criticizing or putting you down, often in subtle ways: “Late again. You’re so disorganized. I guess I should be happy you showed up at all.”
  • Complete denial of the “facts”: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. That never happened.” “You weren’t at the meeting when I said that.”
  • Telling you what you’re feeling or invalidating your feelings: “You’re just being paranoid.”
  • Telling actual lies and making you question reality
  • Projecting onto you what they’re doing: “You keep asking me if I’m lying. I think you’re the one that’s lying, and you’ve got a guilty conscience!”
  • Accusing you of being “too” something: “You’re too emotional. I don’t know why you’re overly sensitive.”
  • Thinking they do more than they do. “I’m always doing all the work around here. I’m the only one who cares about this project!
  • Trying to turn other people against you or hurt your credibility with them. “I’m worried about Rachel’s work ethic. You should think twice about promoting her.

Tips for Dealing with the Narcissistic/Gaslighting Coworker

  • Focus on you, not them.
  • Get out of the emotional blackmail of trying to keep them happy.
  • Do not focus on changing them. Focus on changing your reaction to them.
  • Those. Boundaries (and keep them). Your job is to be abundantly clear about boundaries that are important to you.
  • This means that you must give consequences when your boundaries are trampled. Be upfront about this with the person.


Final Tips for Dealing with All Your Coworkers

A. Loving Detachment

  • Loving detachment isn’t based on how I feel about you; it’s about how I feel about mein relation to you!
  • what I do, the boundary I draw, isn’t based on how I feel in a moment. If I’m angry, it doesn’t change my boundary. If I’m pleased, I don’t change my boundary with you either. Boundaries aren’t about my feelings in a moment!
  • You’re not going to change their personality. It’s about managing how they impact you.
  • You can feel compassion for someone else without having to act on it. You can be there for another person without taking any action or saying anything.

B. Do you want to be correct or effective?

Concentrate your energy on problem-solving instead of being “right.” With that said, remember that you can both be right. It’s possible for two people or teams to be 100% correct and 100% reasonable and STILL disagree. This is because you can have different perceptions, values, definitions, and ways of thinking. Get away from “right” and “wrong” and get into “options” and “creativity.”

C. Go into discussions/meetings with the right intention.

When you’re assuming bad things, it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

D. Be Mindful

If you’re practicing mindfulness daily, you’ll catch yourself before you get too far down the rabbit hole in these negative interactions. Learning all these great tools is awesome, but if you don’t remember to use them when you need them, you’re stuck at square one.

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