Without intending to sound pessimistic, I think I can safely predict that you will come across at least one person at work who you perceive as “difficult”. That special someone who is just downright rude, unreasonable, irritating. Someone whose life-purpose appears to be to make our lives hell. Fear not! Here are some practical and effective ways of coping with a difficult client or colleague.


• I encourage all my coaching clients to observe their thinking as much as possible. The more awareness you have of yourself and the people around you, the greater clarity you have. And the greater the clarity, the more likely it is that you’ll respond to others with rationality and calmness.

• Are you getting caught up in endless ruminations bemoaning your own misfortunes or inadequacies? Or perhaps you’re consumed with narratives criticising your colleague/client? Do you find that one negative experience with this person triggers a downward spiral of self-criticism? Recognise thoughts for what they are: thoughts. They do not necessarily reflect reality.

• What are you feeling? Self-doubt, anger or perhaps fear? Feeling one’s emotions is an important part of life; it’s what we do with them that can create problems. Once we are aware of our emotions, and we begin to understand where they come from, we are able to see the hold they can have over us.


• Know when to stand up for yourself whilst maintaining your professionalism and integrity. Could you discuss with the person why you are having problems whilst presenting a solution to this? (The idea being to convey that you are trying to help them instead of running them down.) Put any agreement you make in writing and act on any steps that need to be taken. Reassess the situation at a future date to see if further steps need to be taken.

• Set boundaries and manage expectations. Bending over backwards for a colleague/client is draining. Often, it will never be enough and you’ll start resenting that person. Be realistic with your time so you don’t over-promise.

• Consider discussing the situation with your superiors. If you are the superior, ask yourself whether having this person in your life is necessary!


• Worrying or getting stressed about other people’s opinions of you is wasted time and energy. You will never be everyone’s cup of tea.

• Avoid over-interpretation and speculation of critical comments. They’ll just make you feel worse. Just because someone says it, doesn’t mean it’s true. Remember that we each perceive the world through our own stained glass window.

• Believe in your own ability and concentrate on what is “right” about you rather than what is “wrong”. And then work on any areas of self-improvement with as much kindness and patience towards yourself as you can muster. If criticism of you is justified and constructive, see this as an opportunity to learn and grow.


I once worked with someone who triggered insecurities and anger in me. The situation seemed increasingly impossible. One day I decided to try a different approach. Instead of focusing on the negatives about that person, I made a conscious decision to find the positives. Every night before falling asleep, I made a mental note of three things I was grateful for about my colleague. I was surprised that I could find any! The result of doing this exercise was that I experienced a noticeable shift at work. Not only was I appreciating my colleague more, I began to realise how complex and insecure this person was. My behaviour towards them became less prickly and defensive. And despite finding my colleague challenging from time to time, we became good friends.


Being empathetic may be the last thing you want to do! (“Surely they don’t deserve my empathy?”) But if you can find a way to observe them from a more neutral perspective, you may find that you perceive the person in a different way. This in turn impacts on your experience with them.


At the end of the day, it can be comforting to remember that life is full of challenges and that the difficult moments in our lives are not permanent. The most important thing is how we respond to these challenges. That is what will make all the difference.

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