How to Handle Difficult People — Even if They Are Your Boss or the Recruiter

June 28, 2010 at 2:57 am Leave a comment

Difficult people are everywhere, but they seem particularly insidious in the workplace. While everyone’s definition of difficult is different, it includes bosses and hiring managers who are arrogant, arbitrary, irrational, unfair, take credit for others’ ideas, happily pass along criticism but are stingy with praise and are moody — allowing matters in their personal lives to intrude into how they supervise people in the workplace.

You’ll meet these people again and again — including on the other side of the interview desk, when it seems really tough to cope with them because they hold the cards — so it’s not particularly effective to just try to avoid them. Instead, it’s important to be forewarned and forearmed.

While there are many reasons people become difficult in the workplace, this set of personality traits often stems from feelings of inadequacy — even though it may not appear that way at all. Psychologists say that lording over people and being difficult is often a way to cover up feelings that deep down someone isn’t competent — this is a “cover” that distracts from their work. While these inadequate feelings may not seem like they should be your problem, getting along with such people on the job or trying to get a job from them may be important to you, so it’s key to develop some strategies for dealing with difficult people.

Here are some tips:

*Realize what you’re facing. If your boss is difficult, it’s only too apparent. But if you are considering joining an organization, you may not realize that your potential supervisor or someone key to making a decision about you could make life tough for you. It’s always better to know what you’re up against so that you can prepare. So ask plenty of questions of those working for the organization, former employees and others who may know about the place for pointers in dealing with this person. Try to get as many details as you can, especially about their pet peeves so you can avoid them — especially before an already nerve-wracking interview.

*Don’t take it too personally. On the face of it, this seems like ridiculous advice — how can you NOT take something personally when it’s being directed at you? Yet most difficult managers are that way with most people, and their wrath or arrogance isn’t intended to be directed at you specifically. Instead, focus on your performance in the interview or on the job rather than on their scowl.

*Pay attention to what they’re saying, not how they may be saying this. Again, this is especially true in job interviews. If they are a negative personality type, it’s easy to be distracted by that and to figure you’re doing a poor job — and to start to ramble and make mistakes. Instead, prepare carefully (as always) and calmly and competently make the best case for your fit for this job and answer the questions as you would of a more upbeat interviewer. In the end, you may be able to disarm them with your confidence, competence and charm.

*Don’t bring yourself down to their level. Especially if it’s clear that this isn’t about you but that you’re just dealing with a difficult person generally, it does not benefit your candidacy for a position — or your continued employment in an organization — if you get into intellectual battles with this individual. That kind of corporate warfare will only sap your energy and enthusiasm for doing your job well. Instead, deal with them in person only when necessary; this is when email and other electronic forms of communication can be your friend. Set up meetings with specific agendas — and whenever possible, with others present — when you must have discussions with them, and try to get them to deal with what’s right before them. And if things get too bad, or you feel this difficult person is taking out more and more things on you, then it’s time to get others above you involved. This is why it’s best to be forewarned about dealing with a difficult individual before you join an organization, as hiring experts say that personality conflicts — especially with bosses — are one of the main reasons that individuals quit their jobs.

*An interesting piece about AOL — (which is still hiring!) in Crain’s New York Business made even more interesting by the fact that Steve Case posted it on Facebook and Twitter:

Steve Case At AOL, finally, a chance to run

*Here are some fresh job leads to kick off the new work week:

*The American Coatings Association in D.C. has an opening for an associate editor/communications manager:
Associate Editor/Communications Manager

American Coatings Association – Washington, DC
Associate Editor/Communications Manager to join its Communications Division… The Associate Editor… with Associate Editor/ Communications Manager in the…

*The Magazine Group (TMG) in D.C. is looking for a consulting editor:

Consulting Editor
tmg – Washington, DC
seeking a seasoned editor who has edited a business… on a freelance basis with the magazine’s managing editor and the association editorial staff. He or she…
From tmg

*Westat in Rockville needs a proposal editor/coordinator:

Proposal Editor/Coordinator
Westat – Rockville, MD
Editor must have a bachelor’s degree and 2 or more years of experience in a fast-paced proposal environment. Candidates must demonstrate excellent communication…

*The Customs and Border Protection Agency in the Department of Homeland Security has an opening in D.C. for a communications specialist:

Communications Specialist
Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection – Washington, DC
developing communications plans that address which topics to emphasize, methodology, and information to include; and evaluating communication plans and… $89,033 – $115,742 a year

*With a hat tip to, there’s an on-air traffic reporter position open in the D.C. region:

ON-AIR TRAFFIC REPORTER POSITION: Looking for people that are reliable and can work without supervision (if needed). The position requires the ability to produce and voice traffic reports and weather reports on several radio stations simultaneously, and to upload audio files to FTP servers. Some stations are live (over the telephone), but most are pre-recorded. The position also requires an understanding on how to properly gather the information for on-air use, such as listening to police scanners (which is a must), properly interpreting information off of the CHP, NHP, MDOT (CHART), and NOAA websites, and making various phone calls to local authorities to verify that the information is correct. Previous traffic reporting experience or similar experience preferred, but will train the right people. This position is primarily for people that have their own studio (with a professional sound), but you can work out of our primary studio if needed. This position requires more than just previous voice-over or D.J. experience; it is a very detail oriented job. You must also maintain your own equipment (if working out of your home). If you think you have what it takes, then e-mail a voice-demo and resume to Pay is piece-work and/or barter. Part-time and fill-in only (for now). (6/25/10)

*United Communications Group in Rockville is looking for a health investigative reporter:

United Communications Group, Rockville, MD
We have an immediate opening for someone with investigative skills on one of our health newsletters. We are looking for someone willing to dig into government efforts to go after physicians, with an eye on giving the physician practice guidance for avoiding trouble. Does anyone come to mind? Send resumes to Lisa Getter, and to Scott Kraft,

*The Washington Post and has an opening in D.C. for an editor for On Leadership:

On Leadership Editor, Washington Post, Washington, DC
We are looking for someone to run On Leadership, one of’s marquee forums for debate and discussions around what makes for great leaders. The ideal candidate is someone who can marry a keen interest in leadership issues–be it political, economic or business leadership–with all the possibilities of web, especially building online communities, social networks and discussions around leadership issues. This person will edit a daily blog, which will launch later this summer, develop weekly panel questions and assign and edit original pieces of content from panelists and guest contributors. The editor also will work with a videographer on a regular interview program and manage promotion, partnerships, conferences and traffic goals for the site. The job also involves using Photoshop and producing images for the site; keeping the site updated, troubleshooting technical problems and monitoring comments. The On Leadership editor is a part of the Post’s Universal News Desk, which will provide editing and other help to this forum, and works closely with Pulitzer-Prize winning Post columnist Steve Pearlstein and Managing Editor Raju Narisetti.

On Leadership has had a strong track record, both with readers and advertisers, and we have very ambitious goals for 2010 and beyond. We’re looking for an entrepreneurial, hands-on editor who wants to make it a must-read and must-view destination for leadership issues online.

If you are interested, please contact Raju Narisetti (, Sandy Sugawara (_sugawaras@washpost.com_ <>)
or Peter Perl  (_perlp@washpost.com_ <>) by Tuesday, July 6, 2010.

*And last but not least today, the Truman National Security Project in D.C. has an opening for a communications director:

The Truman National Security Project is a national security leadership institute, the nation’s only organization that recruits, trains, and positions a new generation of progressives across America to lead on national security.  Our mission is to provide the skills, knowledge, and network to create an influential force of leaders across the country who advance strong progressive national security policy.   We are looking for an excellent writer with skills in messaging and media placement who strongly believes in the Truman Democratic worldview and mission to serve as our Communications Director.  The Communications Director manages all aspects of our external communications, including:

  • Placing senior leadership and Fellows in television, radio, print, and new media venues;
  • Writing messaging, talking points, and manuals to assist progressive leaders in speaking effectively about national security topics;
  • Soliciting and editing op-eds and articles written by Truman Fellows
  • Leading trainings on effective communications for progressive leaders;
  • Manage regional communications volunteers leading outreach efforts in multiple states;
  • Managing website, online community, and social media;
  • Composing and sending press releases and other external communication;
  • New media outreach and updating, including Facebook, Twitter, and other opportunities

The Communications Director should be entrepreneurial, creative, and ready to learn new tasks, consider new ways to spread our message, and implement these strategies.  The Communications Director will be working closely with nationally-recognized political and policy staff and consultants, and will be an integral part of a fast-moving, hard-working, and highly-flexible team for a rapidly-growing organization.

Core Qualifications

  • A high level of comfort and a track record of success in pitching both national and local media outlets
  • Experience working with new media efforts, including use of blast email systems, Facebook, and Twitter, and social media
  • Knowledge of a broad, basic range of national security and foreign policy topics, and the ability to learn such topics quickly
  • Comfort leading trainings and speaking in front of groups
  • On the record experience is preferred
  • Bachelors degree or higher
  • Ability to work long hours, including some nights and weekends
  • Prior experience with national security and military issues is preferred.
  • An excellent sense of humor

Hours: Full Time

Salary: Mid-five figures, commensurate with qualifications; includes full health and other benefits.
Contact: Send resume, references, and a sample op-ed and press release to with “Communications Director” in the subject line. Please visit and read before applying.

Happy hunting — even in all this heat and humidity!



Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

How to Avoid Job-hunting Traps What to Avoid Highlighting in a Job Interview

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