Two coworkers arguing in an office

Facing Office Dragons: Tips for Dealing with Difficult Coworkers

I think most professionals have had the experience of encountering difficult coworkers and/or leaders at work. It can present an uncomfortable and frustrating work environment and make some daily interactions downright painful. Almost every office has, what I call, a dragon. Those dragons are the people who make life difficult for other team members, are unpleasant to interact with, and seem to go out of their way to cause disruption and drama. Have you ever struggled to navigate professional life with an office dragon? I’m sure it caused you stress, created a negative tone in the workplace, and may have even contributed to feelings of unhappiness or depression. Office dragons and difficult people can be big deals. In this blog, we’ll explore some ways you can best deal with difficult people in the workplace.

Define Difficult

What makes someone a difficult person? I think every person has personality attributes that may be perceived by others as difficult, some more than others. Someone really goes from having frustrating traits to becoming a truly difficult person when their dominating attributes tend to create constant upheaval, hurt, or negativity. They are often the kind of people who leave a wake of bad vibes wherever they go. Some of the attributes I’ve seen co-workers use to describe an office dragon or difficult person is someone who:

  • Is a poor communicator who often doesn’t provide clear direction or convey their needs properly
  • Shows favoritism or applies double standards
  • Doesn’t follow through on promises
  • Sets wildly unrealistic expectations for themselves and others
  • Procrastinates
  • Withholds critical information
  • Doesn’t do their job and may even dump their responsibilities on others
  • Makes a lot of mistakes and blames others for them
  • Fails to resolve conflicts in an effective way
  • Is inflexible and unwilling to evolve or change
  • Gossips about other people
  • Constantly complains
  • Is always in a bad or grumpy mood
  • Always talks about how stressed they are
  • Isn’t willing to or doesn’t understand how to be a team player
  • Brings their personal issues to the workplace
  • Is addicted to their cell phone
  • Takes credit for other people’s work
  • Tends to raise their voice

Facing The Dragon

No matter what attributes your dragon has, it will be important to learn how to navigate your relationship with them effectively and, hopefully, diminish their power and maybe even help them transform from dragon to knight. Here are some practical ways you can deal with a difficult dragon:

  • Be proactive, not reactive: Don’t play into the claws of the dragon by constantly reacting to their negative behavior. That will create a cycle that will never end. They want you to react. Instead, try taking a more proactive approach. Work to build solid relationships with your coworkers and leaders by having lunch with them or spending time together outside of work. Getting to know them on a deeper level will help you understand the foundation of who they are and what their motivations may be. This will go a long way toward creating a positive work culture. Dragons can’t survive there.
  • Think first: If you have been experiencing difficult behavior in your dealings with someone, my best advice on what to do first is to take a step back. Analyze what’s going on. Be honest with yourself and thoughtful about the person and the situation.
  • Stay calm: Difficult people and office dragons tend to have a unique ability to create tense, explosive situations. Don’t fall for it. In those moments, take a deep breath and simply remain calm and steady. Don’t give them the power to rock your ship. If you remain calm and keep control of yourself, everything and everyone around you becomes more tolerable and manageable. Allow calmness to be your anchor, and I promise you’ll find that you are able to approach every situation, good or bad, with more wisdom and discretion.
  • Be a force for good: In every situation, you’ll find there are often opportunities to focus on possibilities rather than on obstacles and restrictions. How do you do that? Keep a positive attitude and embrace a can-do spirit. When you interact with a difficult person, stay positive even when they try to bring you down. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and use creative approaches to color your interactions with a would-be dragon. Sometimes all is takes is catching someone without their defenses up in order to see what may be really going on underneath. Once you know what motivates someone, you can understand how to effectively communicate with them and work together cohesively.
  • Share your experience with them: Did you know some people don’t even realize they are difficult? Sometimes it takes someone else sharing their experience with them in a safe space for them to realize they’ve been behaving poorly. So, if you have your own dragon, wait for a calm moment, and ask them to sit down. Be honest with them about your experience. Leave emotion out of the conversation and don’t use threatening language. Simply be clear and firm. This isn’t about confrontation; it’s about education. You might find that they weren’t really aware how much their behavior affected others around them.

Take A Look In The Mirror

Sometimes we can be the dragon. If we have personal situations that we give the power to influence our moods and attitudes, we may have a bad day where we snap at colleagues or say things we realize we shouldn’t have said. When we allow negative spirals to take over, we may find that our own internal dragons are preventing us from seizing opportunities and causing us major professional setbacks. Don’t let your dragons win. How do you do that? Recognize when you feel unbalanced. That’s often the way internal dragons seize control. Focus on staying steady and grounded even when life throws chaos your way. Dragons can be defeated for good when we are empowered, calm, and focused. Always remember that you are the only one who gets to control your attitude and how you treat other people.

One powerful tip for maintaining a great attitude is to utilize positive self-talk. Be your own coach and cheerleader. Throughout the day say things to yourself like:

  • “I’ve got this.”
  • “I did a great job with that!”
  • “This is going to be a great day!”
  • “I can handle this situation intelligently and professionally.”

At the end of the day, the only person you really have the control over changing is yourself. You can dictate how you react to and deal with any situation. The choice is yours and there is great power in it. Your thoughts drive your actions, so focus on allowing positive, productive thoughts to take all the space in your head.

Become A Dragon Master

If you’re ready to slay office dragons and become a force for good in your workplace, Office Dynamics can help. We developed a huge library of resources called the Success Store that focuses on helping executive assistants master all the key functions required in their role, become strategic partners with their leaders, and reach incredible levels of professional success.

The Success Store includes a massive library consisting of books, certification courses, eBooks, live virtual training, and on-demand training that can help assistants level up and reach new heights in their careers. But we don’t stop there. The Office Dynamics menu of services covers every single element an administrative assistant needs to continue their journey towards becoming a star. You’ll find a vast array of training options, both in-person and virtual, that will help you grow in your career. We’re proud to be the lions of the administrative training industry and feel our deep experience and expertise are vital pieces to our own success. We love helping assistants grow. Click here to learn more!


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