Today I’ll guide you through what to do in a specific situation where a boss or a coworker is being particularly negative, or demanding.

Difficult bosses & coworkers are a major source of stress in the workplace. Keeping a healthy work life balance is stressful enough as it is, and difficult people just make it worse.

Thankfully, handling difficult people is a skill that pays off in the long run.

A study found that handling difficult people leads to better administration and earns you respect, trust, and possibly a leadership position. If you want to have harmonious relationships with your coworkers, and grab a chance at that highly coveted promotion, then you might want to learn how to play nice.

What is Conflict Management?

Most of the time, playing nice entails diffusing an emotionally charged situation without suffering any casualties. Do not let your emotions cloud your judgement. Separating yourself from the situation and learning to extract the best possible outcome from it is the point of conflict management.

Conflict management is a skill that lets you read the situation, identify the negative attributes of toxic coworkers, and act properly end things on a lighter note.

Difficult people will wreak havoc only if you let them.

Since difficult bosses & coworkers come in a variety of personalities and attitudes, there are different ways of handling them. If you are being plagued by either of those, here are some helpful tips to get yourself out of a confrontation and into their good graces:

Scenario 1: The Demanding Boss

how to deal with difficult bosses & coworkers

We’ve all been there.

At some point of our careers, we have met a “boss” who expects utmost perfection from us. Fairly difficult to please with, no room for tolerating mistakes (or as I like to call them — learning opportunities!).

These people like to throw demands like their life depended on it.

However, it is important to note that this type of behavior is often linked to projection. Projection is a defense mechanism where a person “projects” or sees their own personal issues and negative behaviors in others.

In essence, your boss is probably experiencing pressure from his own superiors and thus displaces his own frustrations on you.

How to deal with a demanding boss?

As I said, demanding superiors are already dealing with so much on their plate. But this is no excuse to dump their unhealthy coping habits on your side of the table. Adapting a compromising conflict management style may be the best way to make the most of this situation.

You need to establish clear professional boundaries.

For example: Should you be given more work than expected, only accommodate it during working hours. Learn to define and stick to your job title. Anything outside of that should be considered additional work.

However, you need to keep your end of the bargain as well. Remain productive during work hours and avoid slacking off. In addition, put your best foot forward on tasks and ensure the quality of your deliverables.

With this technique, both you and your boss will set ground rules and meet halfway in order to mutually benefit from the situation. This way you get a win-win situation. At the end of the day, your superior receives top quality work while you get more time to yourself!

Scenario 2: Parasitic Coworkers

dealing with Difficult Bosses & Coworkers

Don’t you just hate it when other people pass their work on to you? It’s bad enough to keep up with a demanding superior, but what more when your own colleagues start depending on you to do their work for them? This behavior is often referred to as learned helplessness.

Learned helplessness happens when instead of finding ways and tools to accomplish a task, an employee internalizes that the task is too impossible to complete. Thus, giving up on any effort to try and accomplish it on their own and start making up excuses for their inability to do so.

How to deal with parasitic coworkers?

Parasitic coworkers often lack ingenuity and drive to accomplish their goals.

Most of the time, they also suffer from lack of self-confidence (which leads them to easily give up on tasks) and jealousy (which leads them to target a more able coworker — AKA you!). Addressing their lack of can-do attitude is the key to getting these people off your back.

Adapting a collaborative conflict management style will let you slowly break these people out of their shells and teach them to be self-sufficient. Mentoring is a healthy form of collaborative work where a veteran employee will work with an inexperienced coworker to help them hone their skills so that they may do well on their own.

Finally, be consistent in letting them know that you will not tolerate freeloading behavior. Learn to establish boundaries and set limitations about how often you help them.

Scenario 3: Super-Competitive Coworkers

competitive Difficult Bosses & Coworkers

Of course, what workplace would be complete without competitive colleagues who make everything about themselves. These kinds of coworkers insist that they ALWAYS get the spotlight and enjoy bragging about their achievements all the time.

Often seen as uncooperative and too assertive, these coworkers are often overcompensating for an unconscious insecurity or are quelling a thirst to prove themselves in the eyes of their coworkers. Suffering from low levels of self-esteem, they tend to desperately seek approval, become slaves to perfection, and come across as arrogant.

How to deal with super-competitive coworkers

When dealing with coworkers with self-esteem issues, it is important to understand that putting them down and exchanging hurtful words will only make them more insecure. Adapting a more accommodating conflict management style may be more appropriate for this situation.

This technique makes use of subtle communication skills instead of a full-blown confrontation when addressing the negative behavior of your coworkers. Instead of flat-out turning their ideas down, sit them down and outline why their vision would not work for the team as a whole. Don’t just point out their aggressive nature, let them realize for themselves how their attitude affects their coworkers.

Accommodating their helpful ideas is also one way to address their competitive nature. Instead of avoiding them due to their intimidating and aggressive behavior, try to engage them in teams and seek out their help. Let them view you more as a friend and teammate than a competitor. Once they settled into the idea that not everything is competition, you’ll soon find that they can be a force to be reckoned with.

Not sure if your workplace is causing you stress? See the 4 Signs Your Job is Too Stressful.

Scenario 4: Gossipmongers in the Office

gossipmongers and Difficult Bosses & Coworkers

Office gossipmongers are narcissists in disguise. Often they try to mask their self-centered tendencies by spreading rumors about their coworkers. But in reality, gossip, secrets and other unreliable information about their colleagues reinforces their own self-worth.

A study about office gossip and employee personality revealed that the more narcissistic a person is, the more they try and use gossip as a means to hurt people. These people use information about others to influence power over them and to make themselves seem more desirable.

How to deal with gossipmongers

Adapting the avoidant conflict management style is the best way to deal with these power-hungry rumor-spreading narcissists. Just as the name suggests, this technique involves avoiding a confrontation by side-stepping an issue and learning to control your emotions.

Do not be quick to react to their schemes.

Adapt the classy act and hold your head high. Reacting negatively only gives fuel to their malicious intentions and motivates them to keep targeting you. Instead, own your narrative if possible and show people that you are unaffected by their gossiping.

Confronting them and engaging with their false narrative will only result in the office drama that they so deeply crave. Instead, deprive them of any reaction and learn to brush things aside. You’ll soon find the rumor dying down and them not having any power over you.

Summary: How to Deal with Difficult Bosses & Coworkers

Remember: It’s important that you make sure you always keep your end of the bargain. With doing a good job, you will gain the necessary confidence you need to make a stand for yourself. If you’re slacking off and they know it, it’ll be the first thing they throw back at you when you complain about any issues.

In summary, here’s how to approach making a stand:

  1. Make sure you’re fulfilling all your obligations first
  2. Make sure you’re not being toxic or difficult yourself (even accidently)
  3. Approach the troublemaker with a clam and relaxing tone and express your feelings
  4. Whatever response you get, don’t rush to shoot back, take time to think about your next best approach


This process is vital, especially if you’re in it for the long-haul with your current job. Whatever you do, if you’re working in a stressful environment – make sure you do something. If you can’t confront a coworker for some reason, then at least ask to be transferred away from them.

It’s important to take action, even if you think “it won’t help” – try it. Knowing you tried to do something about a situation is a much better deal for your psyche than doing nothing. 

The worst thing you can do is just keep it all in your head and keep hoping something with change on its own. Chances are, it won’t.

If you’re finding your workplace stressful in general, take a look at 7 Ways to Reduce Stress in the Workplace.